What is XO sauce?

Hong KongI have come across Chinese recipes and restaurant dishes calling for XO Sauce, but had no idea of what the cryptic name truly meant. It turns out this sauce is relatively new, and bears an interesting history.  XO Sauce consists of dried shrimp and scallops cooked down with pork, oil and chili (the pork is sometimes omitted). XO Sauce was first developed in Hong Kong in the 1980s and its popularity has spread from there, finding its way onto international Cantonese restaurant menus and beyond. I definitely understand its appeal – it is basically liquid umami with an added kick! So where does the name XO come from? It is apparently derived from an expensive Cognac designation, “XO” which stands for “extra old.” The sauce itself has no cognac, but is meant to evoke the same luxury. Talking c0st alone, this sauce is pretty luxurious – dried scallops are extremely expensive! You can buy XO sauce ready-made in Asian supermarkets or even make it yourself with recipes from Gourmet Traveller and Kylie Kwong.

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