How to Make Jackie M’s XXO Sauce

I remember when XO sauce started popping up in Chinatown menus as an option for your stir-fried Chinese dishes a couple of decades ago, and thinking it must refer to cognac. I eventually learned that it was in fact a condiment made with dried scallops, an ingredient that’s expensive enough that it would deter me from ever entertaining the thought of trying to make it myself.

Now, I know I’m going to get blowback on this but if you were to ask me, an expensive ingredient like dried scallops is wasted on what is essentially a glorified chilli sambal; I can’t really taste any scallop flavour in it and its primary function, from what I can determine, is to give it the condiment a slightly stringy texture.

Anyhow I was rummaging through my pantry right before last Friday evening’s Live Asian Kitchen (my thrice-weekly FREE live online cooking classes), when I came across some dried cuttlefish in shredded stringy form, which I’d picked up in Penang during my Wok Around Asia trip. In a rare flash of brilliance, I decided it’d make a good substitute for dried scallops.

I further decided I could replace another key ingredient – ham (I don’t eat pork) – with the minced preserved radish that was similarly sitting in my pantry.

(The minced preserved radish I buy is available in grocery stores that stock ingredients used in Southeast Asian cooking – the Thais use it in Pad Thai, and I use it in my Chai Tow Kway aka Char Kway Kak, ie. fried radish cake. Alternatively get the more widely-known salted preserved radish used in Chinese cooking, but rinse it very well, then mince it in a blender.)

I have to say, it tastes so delicious I’ve decided to give it a name – the Jackie M XXO Sauce. It took under an hour compared to what would have been an all-day affair had you used actual dried scallops (granted, I took other shortcuts aside from having to soak the scallops for 6 hours, then steaming and shredding them by hand etc.)

I’m going to assume you may not be so lucky as to find pre-shredded dried cuttlefish at your local Asian store, hence why I’ve tweaked the recipe below to use whole dried cuttlefish, cut into pieces.

My final caveat is that I’ve increased the amount of oil in this recipe, if for no other reason than to replicate the oily visual of your standard XO sauce; my effort produced a much less oily version; your call whether you want to use all two cups of oil.

Jackie M’s XXO Sauce


5 onions, peeled
8 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup dried shrimp, soaked in hot water and strained
¼ cup dried cuttlefish
¼ cup minced preserved radish (chai poh), rinsed and strained
1 cup chilli paste or ¼ cup chilli powder (adjust according to heat level)
2 Tbsps chicken powder
1 Tbsp thick soya sauce aka cooking caramel
1 Tbsp sugar
½ Tbsp fish sauce (optional)
2 cups oil


  1. Simmer dried cuttlefish with 2 cups of water for 3 minutes. Strain, then pulse in a blender to a soft, flossy texture. Remove and set aside.
  2. Finely mince dried shrimp in a blender. Remove.
  3. Mince garlic and onion.
  4. Transfer garlic & onion into a heavy-based wok and fry until most of the moisture has evaporated.
  5. Add oil and fry until onion is caramelised.
  6. Add dried shrimp, cuttlefish, minced preserved radish & chilli and fry until oil separates.
  7. Add chicken powder, thick soya sauce, sugar and fish sauce.
  8. Mix well, fry a further couple of minutes, adjust seasoning, then remove from heat.

Store in jars and refrigerate. This will keep well in the fridge for at least 4 weeks, and should freeze well.

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