Monday, October 28, 2013

X is for: XO Eggplant

For awhile now, XO sauce has been this mysterious unicorn to me. It's hailed as this magical Chinese condiment, but one I had yet to try. And as someone with an alphabet-themed food blog, anything starting with the letter "X" is automatically on my radar.

Then Grub Street dubbed it "the most baller condiment" based on its high-end ingredients and steep price tag. "Ok," I thought, "this is something I need to try." 

The last time I was on letter X, I posed a question to my Twitter followers, soliciting the best recipe for the stuff. A Chinese woman replied back, asking why I wouldn't just buy some... equating it to trying to make ketchup. Huh. Well I suppose she had a point. I would never make ketchup. I tabled the idea for the time being, instead making Xacuti and tabbing the XO for a future blog post.


Fast forward to last week, when a brisk, New England fall day had me craving some Pho. A quick Yelp search took me to a random strip mall, where Pho Boston satisfied my need for spice, warm broth and noodles. In the same strip mall, I spied an Asian market and I knew I would be stopping in after my meal. (No comment on the store's unfortunate name in an English-speaking community).

The place was like a self-contained Chinatown. I loved it. A huge produce section with obscure ingredients you wouldn't find at a normal grocery, a plentiful seafood counter, and just about any Asian ingredient you could ever imagine. It was in one of the THREE long aisles of jarred sauces and spices that I spotted the coveted XO sauce.


So what is it exactly? It's a mixture of dried shrimp and dried scallops mostly, and often includes Chinese ham along with chile and garlic. Because the ingredients can be pretty pricey, so is the sauce. This little jar will run you about 10 bucks. In fact, the "XO" name comes from the cognac designation, and the status associated with it. Even though it contains no alcohol of any kind, the name is meant to elicit an air of elegance. And true to that idea... you'll see XO sauce on the menu at high end restaurants like Hakkasan and Momofuku in some of their most expensive dishes.

I'll be honest, the authentic food blogger in me really wanted to take a crack at making it, but I didn't see any dried scallops at the market (though I'm sure I just didn't look hard enough) and I also wanted to try it first before trying to replicate it. So perhaps you'll see XO sauce make a reappearance in a future blog post with a homemade recipe.


I also bought a couple of Asian eggplants at the market and decided to somehow incorporate them into a dish with the XO sauce. From what I had read, it seemed like a condiment with a very rich flavor...one you don't want a ton of ingredients competing against. I decided the eggplant would provide a somewhat neutral canvas that would mesh well with the flavor of the sauce. I also picked up some Asian basil and some small peppers to round out the stir fry.


I normally salt eggplant and let them sweat (like I do for eggplant parmesan). But for these smaller varieties, it isn't necessary. Simply slice them in half lengthwise, and then cut them at an angle into 1/2 inch pieces.


Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok until very hot and tilt to coat all sides. For some reason, I prefer to use peanut oil when I stir fry, but vegetable oil is more traditional. Just make sure your oil is one with a high smoke point. Fry eggplant until tender and browned, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper, remove eggplant and set aside.


While eggplant is cooking, mix together chile paste, soy sauce (or tamari for gluten free), sesame oil, corn starch and palm sugar (or brown sugar) in a small bowl and set aside.


Add more oil to the wok and add garlic and chiles. Stir fry 20-30 seconds. Add XO sauce and green onions and stir fry another minute. Stir in soy sauce mixture, eggplant and basil and heat until warmed through and sauce has thickened slightly. I had no idea what kind of peppers I was buying, but they were actually perfect for this. They provided a little kick, but were mild enough to eat whole. You could also try dried peppers or just some red pepper flakes. If you don't have an extreme bell pepper aversion like me, I suppose you could use bells (gross), but I prefer spicy pepper for this.


Serve atop rice and garnish with more basil. I'll be honest... when I first opened the jar and my nose was hit with the strong fish smell, I wasn't sure if I was going to like the flavor of the XO sauce, but I actually loved it. It was rich, complex... slightly spicy, slightly caramely. It went great with the eggplant, and it would also be delicious in noodles or fried rice. (Speaking of which... I might just do that with my leftover rice!)

XO Eggplant

by Jaymee Sire
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Keywords: stir-fry side entree eggplant xo sauce Chinese Asian

Ingredients (2 servings)
  • 2-3 Asian eggplants
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil, divided use
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari (tamari for GF)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red chile paste/sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon XO sauce
  • 6-8 small chiles
  • 2 green onions, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • generous handful of Thai basil leaves (plus more for garnish)
Instructions
  1. Slice eggplants in half lengthwise, then cut at an angle into 1/2 inch slices. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok until very hot and tilt to coat all sides. Fry eggplant until tender and browned, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper, remove eggplant and set aside.
  2. While eggplant is cooking, mix together soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, chile paste and corn starch in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Add 1 more tablespoon of oil to the wok and add garlic and chiles. Stir fry 20-30 seconds. Add XO sauce and green onions and stir fry another minute. Stir in soy sauce mixture, eggplant and basil and heat until warmed through and sauce has thickened slightly. Serve atop brown rice and garnish with more basil.
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1 comment:

  1. looks delicious...cant wait to try it....

    http://thestoryofayna.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete

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