Recipe: chinese xo sauce
I sometimes forget that I’m Chinese. It sounds crazy, but it is true. I don’t look in the mirror often (this you can probably tell if you have ever encountered me in real life), there aren’t many pictures of me since I’m usually the one behind the camera, and I live with a white guy and a black dog in Colorado. So it startles me at times when I do take a picture of myself and I think, “Oh yeah… I’m Chinese.”
after a happy day of skiing
And then there are times when I really feel it.
There is a young woman, Janet Liang, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 22 in 2009. She underwent some nasty chemotherapy treatments and was declared in full remission in 2010. Except she relapsed at the end of 2011. She’s undergoing more chemo now, but her best chance to beat this cancer is to find a bone marrow match and the chances for finding a match are higher within her own ethnic group. She has until April of 2012 to find the perfect match, so time is short. And you know, there are a lot of people out there waiting for a bone marrow match. If we all registered, we might save that many more lives. I tweeted and Facebooked the link to spread the word, and then I went to register online.
I know that fear of wondering if cancer will snuff you out. I knew it at age 36 and it scared the shit out of me. Janet is only 25 years old. She is so young. I was a complete moron at age 25, I can’t even imagine how I would have felt or reacted. I knew the chances of me being a match were slim, but I hoped I could help. When I read the instructions on how to join the bone marrow registry, my heart sank. My history of cancer precludes me from being a donor. I read the guidelines over and over again and the tears spilled down my face. Damn cancer. But my pity party was only a few seconds. If I couldn’t register, I would at least let everyone in my circles know and perhaps get a fraction of them to register. It’s so simple, and yet it’s huge. It is life. Not just for Janet, for many others.
If you feel so inclined, please consider registering through Helping Janet which has links on how to join a bone marrow registry. She’s got just over a month and registration takes a little while, so time is of the essence. And if you could spread the word, that would be aces. Thank you so much. xo
I think it is very Chinese to be skeptical of Chinese food you aren’t familiar with. Take XO sauce, for instance. This is a spicy condiment chock full of seafood that we usually eat with dim sum, on noodles, on rice, on vegetables, on tofu – pretty much with anything. I grew up knowing it as a true sauce with bright orange oil, colored from the chile. I found a recipe while flipping through my Momofuku cookbook and was pretty jazzed. Homemade XO sauce, at last!
grapeseed oil, garlic, ginger, country ham, chile pepper, dried shrimp, dried scallop
For the uninitiated, there are some items that may be hard to find. Mainly the dried scallops and the dried shrimp. The dried scallops are expensive, but a little goes a long way. When I told my mom I needed to find dried scallops she nearly screamed, “I have some in the refrigerator in our Boulder condo! Use them!” These were whole scallops, which cost more. I said I might use them if I couldn’t find any at Pacific Ocean Market. The scallops are typically found at the front of the Asian grocery store where they sell medicinal items, teas, and ginseng. I had never shopped for them before, but as soon as Mom described where they would be, suddenly the “front counter” of every Asian market I’d ever seen flashed through my brain. Pieces are the cheapest, then they become progressively more expensive for small, medium, large, and extra large.
the array of scallops
whole and pieces
I decided to buy pieces as they were cheaper and I didn’t want to use up Mom’s scallops. I’m still unclear as to why you would buy whole ones anyway because when you rehydrate them, they fall apart. Can anyone enlighten me on that? Oh, and the dried shrimp will likely be in the refrigerated section (in the main part of the store) where they have fresh noodles and pickled vegetables. I was quite pleased to find this kind with no food coloring because all of the ones with food coloring scare me.
small or medium? who knows – i never claim to understand chinese labeling
soak the scallops and shrimp overnight in water (do this first!)
Now let’s talk about ham. Country ham is not boiled ham. They are different beasts altogether. Country ham is salty as hell and amazingly good. If you can find some or if my mom is nice enough to send you some, then you’re in business. Otherwise, you might try using xiang chang, which is sweeter and found in most Asian grocery stores. Once you have your mise en place, it goes rather quickly.
garlic and ginger: chop chop
actually, just about everything is run through the food processor
I was surprised at how the ham soaked up all of the oil in the pan and worried that I had done something wrong. I went back and read the recipe description. That’s when I noticed Chang wrote this was “dry and flaky” and not really sauce-like at all. Well okay… when you are this far along, you don’t jump ship. I had faith in the Chang.
adding chile pepper to the ham
mix in the scallops, shrimp, garlic, and ginger
Once everything is in the pan, it goes on low heat for a good 45 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning and encourage drying. It’s done when the whole ensemble turns a deep golden color.
chang calls it dirty blonde
This definitely is not the XO recipe that I was looking for, but it’s lovely anyway and I now have a big jar of it in my refrigerator. I’ve since enjoyed it on fried rice, with vegetables, and topped Chang’s awesome ginger scallion noodles with some XO “sauce”. Aromatic, spicy, strong flavors. Good stuff! I can’t wait to try some on congee.
xo sauce with noodles is a total no-brainer
Chinese XO Sauce
from Momofuku by David Chang
2 oz (1/2 cup) dried scallops
2 oz (3/4 cup) dried shrimp
1/2 cup garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cup country ham, chopped (or use Chinese sausage)
1/2 cup grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
1 tbsp crushed dried red chile
Place the scallops and shrimp in a medium bowl and cover with at least 1/2-inch of water. Cover the bowl and let sit overnight. Put the garlic and ginger in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Empty the contents into a bowl. Drain the scallops and shrimp. Place the scallops and shrimp in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the scallop and shrimp to the garlic and ginger. Finally, mince the ham or sausage in the food processor. Keep the ham or sausage separate from the rest of the ingredients. In a 12-inch sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat for a minute or so. Add the ham and stir occasionally, for about 3-4 minutes until the meat begins to crisp. Add the chile. Cook (stirring) for another 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to a very low flame and add the remaining ingredients to the pan. Let the sauce cook over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is stuck to the pan. The sauce should dry out and turn a deep golden color. Remove from heat. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator (should last for months). Makes 2 cups.