Home-Made XO Sauce

XO sauce, that rich combination of dried seafood with chiles, garlic, and other aromatics (many of which are shown at right), is relatively new to Chinese cookery; it doesn't stand for "extra old" as it does in cognac, nor does it even call for cognac as an ingredient. But cognac was popular in Hong Kong in the 1980s, where and when the sauce was born, so my guess is that the name refers to its extravagant, exotic nature. Making it is a real labor of love; you have to let the dried seafood soak up water before finely chopping it with the aromatics and cooking the mixture to incorporate the flavors. But it's so worth it. Even with all that seafood, the end result is surprisingly unfishy. The taste is smoky, deep, and downright decadent. At Lukshon, we serve it with meat, vegetables, even rice and noodle dishes. It enhances everything it touches. —Sang Yoon, Father's Office, Los Angeles

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