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Hugs And Kisses For XO Sauce, The Mommy Of All Umami

Editor's Note: This is a rerun of a vintage Food for Thought post.

Nancy Leson and I love the XO sauce, the incredibly flavorful Chinese condiment, but we don't love the price. Besides, it's always more fun to make your own. And 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. There are 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 and 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."

—Geoffrey Chaucer


Dick Stein joined KNKX in January 1992. He retired in 2020 after three decades on air. During his storied radio career, he hosted the morning jazz show, co-hosted and produced "Food for Thought" with Nancy Leson and wrote and directed the Jimmy Jazzoid live radio musical comedies and 100 episodes of Jazz Kitchen.