XO Sauce

February 18, 2022
1 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Prep time 12 hours 10 minutes
  • Cook time 35 minutes
  • makes slightly under 1 quart
Author Notes

Until recently, I had no idea what XO sauce was; I only knew that I loved it. (To get the Beyoncé puns out of my system from the top: I loved it like XO.)

The first time I tried it was at Chris Jaeckle’s Japanese-Venetian restaurant in Greenwich Village, All’onda. The fatty, briny, garlicky sauce was so delicious—and so different from anything I’d tried before—that I can’t even remember the vegetables (pasta?) it covered. But, as I’ve since learned, that’s the point of XO sauce—to be so overtly rich that it steals the show.

After reading through my trove of Google-sourced XO sauce recipes, some versions seemed too spicy-sweet, and others did not hold back on the garlic (and this is coming from a garlic-lover). I doctored my Franken-recipe (a mishmash of 6 to 8 recipes) to hit a happy medium, with vinegar-y Shaoxing wine balancing the sweet sausage, and put a kibosh on the Thai bird chiles. As Danny Bowien’s recipe recommends, I made note to stir in a fried element at the end. He adds fried garlic, but I pulled the fried onions from the back of my cabinet and a bag of scallions I’d bought on impulse in Chinatown.

The end result was delicious: fatty, briny, and garlicky, but also spicy, textured, and unbelievably addictive. In one dinner, I ate it three ways: In a pesto pasta in lieu of chorizo (yes, pesto—it worked and it was glorious!), with sautéed broccoli rabe, and straight from the pan.

This recipe is adapted from Danny Bowien's recipe in The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook and from Chris Jaeckle's served at the restaurant All'Onda, but also from a lot of trial and error on a Saturday afternoon. —Leslie Stephens

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 cup dried shrimp
  • 1/2 cup good-quality dried scallops
  • 4 1/2 ounces hot soppressata, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Chinese sausage, about 2 links, cut into rounds (or bacon with 1 tablespoon honey added)
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or any neutral oil (do not use olive oil), plus more as needed
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes, plus more
  • 1 (3-inch) piece ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole star anise pods
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup fried scallions (or an additional ¼ cup fried onions)
  • 1/4 cup fried onions
  1. Rehydrate the shrimp and scallops: Place the shrimp and scallops in separate Tupperware containers. Cover to submerge with water. Cover the containers (so that their pungent smell doesn't get out, and your pet doesn't get in). Let soak for 8 hours or up to 12.
  2. Drain the shrimp and scallops and transfer to a food processor. Pulse several times, scraping down the sides, until blended and well combined—the scallops will look rough and stringy, but should be completely blended with the shrimp. Transfer the shrimp-scallop mixture to a medium bowl. In the food processor, pulse the soppressata and sausage for about 10 seconds, until blended and uniform.
  3. In a medium, heavy pan over medium-low heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until just barely browned, then add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, until fragrant and just browned.
  4. Add the shrimp-scallop and sausage mixtures and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for about 1 minute, until warmed through. Reduce the heat to low and add the red pepper flakes, ginger, cinnamon, and star anise. Simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
  5. Stir in the wine and soy sauce and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the fat has rendered and the mixture appears mostly dry. It's important to keep stirring in order to keep the garlic and meat on the bottom from burning. Mix in the fried scallions and onions, then add up to ¼ cup more oil, until the desired consistency is reached.
  6. Do Ahead: The sauce can be made 2 weeks ahead. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

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