Dining

Ciao, XO

Chinese XO sauce takes a trip to Italy
Spooning out Italian-style XO sauce atop agnolotti at All'Onda in New York City | Photos: Tasting Table
Italian XO Sauce Spooned Out by All'Onda's Chris Jaeckle
  • 1,190

A line cook is rolling out fresh rigatoni. Bucatini is twirled with creamy sea urchin. It's dinner prep in the kitchen of All'Onda, a gorgeous restaurant in New York City, and everything seems so very . . . Italian.

But at a tiny station right next to the fryer, chef Chris Jaeckle is hunched over a big pot, stirring flecks of seafood, soppressata and olive oil into a rich, chunky condiment you'd be more likely to find at a dinky hole-in-the-wall Cantonese noodle shop.

Behold XO sauce: a fishy, oil-laden Chinese kitchen staple and the latest obsession among Italian-minded chefs like Jaeckle and Jonathon Sawyer of the newly opened Trentina in Cleveland.

Once dubbed the "caviar of the East," XO sauce is the creation of Hong Kong chefs in the 80s looking to make a condiment that had the same cache as flashy XO brandy (although there's no brandy in the sauce). What they came up with is a hot, oily mix of prized, pricey dried fish (shrimp! scallops! abalone!), rehydrated and tossed with sweet Chinese sausage, garlic, chiles and oil over high heat.

"What I love about XO sauce is the funky, seafood-y feel to it," Jaeckle says with a laugh. "I go down to Chinatown once a week to buy the dried shrimp and scallops, because I know if we dried them ourselves, we'd never get that same terroir—that dirty-water Chinatown authenticity."

Sawyer's affection, on the other hand, stems from a slight obsession with beef jerky. "I was doing a carbonara with beef jerky sofrito, and from there, it became a new love affair for XO."

The jerky takes the place of Chinese sausage in Sawyer's XO, which is made with abalone dried in-house, chiles, roasted garlic and a bit of vinegar. He drizzles the XO over scallops and oysters.

Jaeckle experimented with razor clams and soppressata before landing on the shrimp and scallop XO sauce (see the recipe) he uses at All'Onda.

At the restaurant, he uses the sauce on his hand-rolled agnolotti bundles, but this noodle shop standby would be at home with any grilled, white-flesh fish or mixed into a simple bowl of noodles.

"I kept thinking, 'How can I make something I love?'" Jaeckle says. "So, now I've got these two authentic things coming together—traditional Chinese dried fish and imported soppressata—and it's something that's us now."

All'Onda 22 E. 13th St. New York NY 10003 212-231-2236 Trentina 1903 Ford Dr. Cleveland OH 44106 216-421-2900
Want the inside scoop?
get the latest recipes, news and hacks from tasting table
THANKS FOR SUBSCRIBING!
Please check your inbox to verify your email address.
HOT STUFF
HOT STUFF

Make Chris Jaeckle's Soppressata XO Sauce

Next Step

Our Editors' Favorite Regional Chains

Keep Reading

Around the Web

Get the Tasting Table newsletter for adventurous eaters everywhere