Oooooh yes. If you’ve never heard of “XO Sauce,” it is basically the world’s most powerful ingredient. If condiments are like ammunition, XO is the nuclear bomb. Seriously, I have never in my life tasted anything that packs more flavor in each drop than this XO sauce. There is just no way to describe the complexity and power that this sauce brings to the table. Now, for basically the first time ever, we have a vegan version.

XO Sauce’s fabled history starts in Hong Kong in the 1980′s where it was developed to add an extra punch to Cantonese cuisine. Ever since, the fascination with this “caviar of the east” has continued to spread. Traditionally, the ultra-pricey XO is made with dried scallops and Yunnan ham. But given that this is a vegan blog and Yunnan hams are particularly difficult to acquire in California, let’s make a few substitutions, shall we?

Vegan XO

Makes about 1/2 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 dried chilis
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 tablespoons nori (or any seaweed)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise

Vegan XO Fork

Clearly, this product is extremely difficult to make and will most certainly require many hours of toiling in the kitchen. Except… not at all. In fact, with all the ingredients on hand, you can whip up a week’s supply in under 20 minutes. Here’s how:

Step One

In a large saucepan (or, preferably, a wok), heat the canola oil and soy sauce over medium-low heat while you gather and prepare all the other ingredients: thinly slice the shiitakes, mince the garlic and scallion, slice the nori into thin strips, and break the chilis into small pieces while removing the seeds.

Note: I used dried chile de árbol but you can likely use any dried or fresh chilis you have on hand.

Step Two

With the oil and soy sauce warm (but not scalding) throw in the minced garlic and scallion and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes by themselves, then, add everything else to the party – mushrooms, chilis, nori, a grating of fresh ginger, a piece of cinnamon, and a star anise. If you don’t have whole cinnamon sticks, use just 2-3 pinches of ground cinnamon.

Step Three

Allow this to reduce for a few minutes and then remove the cinnamon and star anise – they don’t take long to impart their flavors. Then continue cooking for about 10-12 minutes until the mushrooms have reduced and the mixture is considerably thicker than when you started.

Step Four

The final sauce should be quite chunky, but it does need some final polishing from this stage. For that, transfer to a blender or food processor and simply pulse a few times until the mushrooms are broken into smaller pieces and the whole sauce has a more integrated feel (but not fully pureed). Store this for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Serving Suggestions

Now, armed with an entire bottle of XO, what ever would you do with such a condiment? Basically, you can use it as a garnish that will add a kick anywhere you would normally use hot sauce. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Use as a marinade and/or garnish for fried tofu and tempeh.
  • Add to noodle dishes, like chow mein or my Asian Stir Fry
  • Mix into some plain ol’ brown rice to create a much more complex rice dish in minutes.
  • However, the most common and classical implementation of XO sauce is… well, I can’t tell you. For that, you’ll have to wait until my next recipe on Saturday. I’ll give you a hint, though: it starts with fried and ends with rice and has a certain white cruciferous vegetable in the middle. :) See you Saturday.

    Update: here’s that cauliflower fried rice recipe »

    Vegan XO Sauce