As with all successful culinary innovations, the exact circumstances surrounding the birth of XO sauce are unknown. It is likely that the combination of dried shrimp, dried scallops, garlic, and other seasonings first graced the table of one of Hong Kong's pricier dining establishments. Furthermore, it's probably not a coincidence that the creators of XO sauce chose to name it after a popular but decidedly expensive brandy: ordering a bottle will add several dollars to your restaurant bill. That was over twenty years ago. The exotic sauce with the unforgettable name quickly became a hit, and today XO sauce is showing up in restaurants across North America, from Vancouver to New York. But XO sauce is more than a table condiment. Its spicy flavor is used to enhance stir-fried meat, seafood, tofu and vegetable dishes. Stir-fried Lobster and Vermicelli with XO sauce is on the menu at the Dynasty Restaurant in Green Brook, New Jersey, while chefs at Tokyo's Park Hyatt Hotel have decided XO sauce is the perfect accompaniment for Stir-fried Noodles with Chicken and Shrimp.
And you no longer need to dine out to satisfy a yen for the liquid that has earned the nickname "Caviar of the Orient." Lee Kum Kee has bottled its own version of XO sauce, adding ham, red chile peppers and various seasonings to the dried shrimp and scallops. Expect to pay up to $10 for a four ounce jar.
Of course, more adventurous cooks can always make their own. Since the ingredients in XO sauce are rather expensive, the most economical approach is to buy in bulk and make up more than one batch at a time. But whichever method you choose, XO sauce is a worthwhile investment. Keeping a jar on hand can be quite useful on those (hopefully rare) occasions when, in the middle of preparing dinner, you suddenly discover the cupboard is bare and a trip to the Asian market is long overdue.