On a Cognac label, the term “XO” refers to a Cognac in which the eaux-de-vie (clear brandies) in the blend are aged for an average of 10 years. Which country created a condiment named after the iconic fortified spirit?
XO sauce is a luxe umami-rich condiment created by a chef at the exclusive Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong, in the early 1980s. Named after the wildly popular and premium aged cognac (XO is slang throughout Hong Kong for anything of high quality considered a luxury), XO sauce is a complex combination of finely chopped dried shrimp and scallops (called conpoy), salty Chinese cured ham, shallots, garlic, chili, and oil—but no actual Cognac. Ubiquitous in southern Cantonese cooking, XO sauce is slathered on just about everything. But despite being nicknamed the “caviar of the Orient,” the sauce is often most delicious eaten alone with a simple bowl of noodles or rice. The chunky jam-like condiment takes hours to make and calls for pricy ingredients (just one pound of conpoy can cost up to $100). Fortunately, jarred versions are now available online and at Asian food markets—expect a price tag at least 10 times higher than soy sauce.