XO Sauce

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


Appears in

Balance and Harmony

By Neil Perry

Published 2008

  • About

One of the really great things about going to Hong Kong is the XO chilli sauces made by fine-dining Chinese restaurants there. All the chefs are showing off, of course — it is their want to become the king of XO chilli sauce, so it has become a challenge as to who makes the very best. XO chilli sauce is simply the top shelf of sauces, named after XO Cognac. In other words, the house speciality, and the very best the house can offer. I have never once had an XO sauce I thought not worthy of dipping a dumpling into. These sauces may not even be that hot, but what they all have in common is a marvellous blending of the most exotic dried ingredients and seasoning. XO is great with seafood, as a dipping sauce, through stir-fries or dolloped on steamed foods. One of my favourite Hong Kong meals is XO chilli with egg noodles and lobster; I really think the nuttiness of the lobster and the earthiness of the sauce are a magical balance.


  • 4 dried scallops, soaked in warm water for 2 hours and drained
  • 50 g (1¾ oz) dried shrimp, soaked in warm water for 2 hours and drained
  • 200 g (7 oz) long red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 50 g (1¾ oz) ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 50 g (1¾ oz) garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 300 ml (1½ fl oz) vegetable oil
  • 3 spring onions (scallions), finely sliced


Put the scallops on a plate and put the plate in a bamboo steamer over a pot or a wok of rapidly boiling water, cover with the lid and steam for 10 minutes. Remove the scallops from the steamer and, while still warm, shred with your fingers, separating all the fibres.

Pound the shrimp until finely ground in a mortar with a pestle, or grind in a spice grinder.

Put all the ingredients, except for the spring onions, in a large heavy-based pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until the sauce loses its raw edge and turns deep red. Remove from the heat and let cool, then stir in the spring onions.