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Hugs and kisses for XO Sauce -- the Mommy of all umami
Nancy and I love this incredibly flavorful Chinese condiment but we don't love the price. Besides, it's always more fun to make your own. There's no shortage of recipes.
I made some a few months back using a hybrid recipe I put together from David Chang's Momofuku cookbook and one from Saveur magazine. Just click on those links to see them. There's plenty of other recipes online, too. Just look around.
XO was invented in 1980s Hong Kong and got its name from XO (Extra Old) cognac, which is synonymous there with things costly and luxurious. Though there's no actual cognac in it, XO sauce certainly fills that bill. The taste is hard to describe: Very savory, slightly fishy, with a bit of heat. Quite a layered flavor, XO is good as both condiment and cooking ingredient.
If you don't feel like rounding up all the ingredients — Dried octopus, mackerel, scallops and shrimps are just the start — you can always buy a jar at an Asian market or online. Just be prepared for the sticker shock.
"Woe to the cook whose sauce has no sting"