Thursday, August 5, 2010


I fell into some great Tennessee ham not too long ago, and one night, as my crazy haired friend and I were hanging around talking food, he suggested that as I had so much of it, I should make XO sauce with it. XO sauce seems to have shown up in Hong Kong as recently as the 80's, and named with the perceived chicness of the XO on Cognac labels in mind it isn't so much a sauce as it is a bunch of minced "stuff" that makes everything more flavorful. Think of MSG, but more on the legit--this stuff is straight flavor made from relatively whole ingredients, and the recipe I used is from the great book Momofuku by the ever rolly-polly and OB drinking David Chang. It's simple: visit your friendly local Asian market (mine is Viet Hoa on Argyle Street in Chicago), and while picking up the weird squid-refreshing and tongue burning (don't try to taste it on it's own, trust me) potassium carbonate/sodium bicarbonate solution for the ramen noodles you are making, grab some dried shrimp and dried scallops. Don't think too much about what the scallops look like, or what your kitchen is going to smell like, or you won't get them out the door. Grab some ginger and garlic as well--lots. While there, take a look at the fish and produce. You'll see some things you aren't apt to find anywhere else, and the freshest fish in Chicago--the turnover at this place is amazing, and thus keeps the fish moving in and out at a smashing pace.
Back home, soak the dried scallops and shrimp in water, and pull out the food processor, or a really sharp knife and a lot of patience. One way or another, mince up your country ham and get it frying in some oil for awhile, then add some crushed red chiles. Mince a load of garlic and ginger as well, and when the ham is almost browned and asking for it, throw it in. Strain and mince the seafood (I saved some of the water as well, just in case I needed some flavorful liquid) and add it in, letting the whole thing cook on low low low heat for about an hour. It smells funky, but man does it taste good. Salty salty. Spicy. Umami. Sweetness finds a way in. Use it on whatever. It should keep for a long time. The batch I made is going to last forever--even with the jar I've got set aside for old crazy hair. Evidently, it doesn't go bad too quicky, so don't worry about it.
Meanwhile, I've got some naturally fermented pickles (no vinegar--counter top cultures creating a lot of lactic acid) that are just about ready as well as the "you are such a hippy from Colorado" comment-inducing batch of kombucha doing it's thing on the counter. We'll discuss soon.