Family Traditions: Pipis and Vermicelli with Homemade XO Sauce

Back in the day, before the recreational pipi harvesting ban across NSW was implemented, I recall the excitement of our annual roadtrip down the coast to Seven Mile Beach to gather pipis. With a bucket and shovel, we crouched over the shoreline and at the sight of small air pockets in the sand, we dug frantically against the clock of the waves. As the waves washed over the sand holes, we rhythmically spent hours at end on the beach, until our legs could crouch no more.

Once home, my parents would submerge the pipis in water overnight to purge them of sand, and the following evening, my siblings and I would fight over the credit for the plumpest pipis. It was always a great joy to hand-harvest our own pipis in the wild, and witness the magical transformation into a sumptuous home-cooked dish. Sometimes they were wok-tossed with garlic, chilli and Thai basil, but my ultimate pipi dish, would have to be pipis in XO sauce, with a mandatory serve of fried vermicelli noodles to soak up the delicious XO sauce gravy.

Fresh live pippies at the fish market

With Chinese New Year around the corner, I decided to make my very own homemade XO sauce this year.

Chinese New Year eve dinners throughout my childhood were always a labour of love. My parents would spend days preparing an extravagant dinner table of auspicious Chinese dishes believed to bring good luck and prosperity throughout the new year. Chinese New Year is an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends, to express gratitude to parents and elders; it’s a time to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. So in the style of #LamFamilyEats, my XO sauce is nothing like the grainy versions you’d see on the supermarket shelves or in restaurants. This XO sauce is truly the emperor of all sauces, with chunky bites of dried scallop, and a smoky, decadent, complex flavour; it has been perfectly crafted to spoil dearest family and friends.

XO sauce ingredients, dried scallops, dried shrimp, fresh and dried chillis, shallots

For those unfamiliar with XO sauce, it is a spicy seafood sauce that originated from Hong Kong. Named after XO Cognac for its prestigious and luxurious qualities, the sauce is made from a marvelous blend of dried seafood. Chefs at top Chinese restaurants keep their XO sauce recipe closely guarded. The sauce is extremely versatile and can be used as a dipping sauce, tossed through stir-fries, or as a condiment topping on noodles, steamed meats, vegetables or dumplings.

Pipis with Vermicelli in homemade XO sauce

The beauty of being a blogger for almost 10 years is being able to click back to previous Chinese New Year celebrations: 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2011 part 2, 2013, 2014. My family has grown significantly in the last five years with three weddings (including mine ) so we’ve ditched cooking for fancy festive banquet dinners. However, with my in-laws and the extended family, we’ll be doing a Chinese New Year Eve potluck dinner, and this is what I’ll be serving —

Homemade XO Sauce Recipe + Pipis and Vermicelli in XO Sauce

This XO sauce is nothing like the grainy versions you’d see on the supermarket shelves or in restaurants. This XO sauce is truly the emperor of all sauces, with chunky bites of dried scallop, and a smoky, decadent, complex flavour; it has been perfectly crafted to spoil dearest family and friends.
Prep Time 1 hr 40 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 1 hr 55 mins
Course Main Course, Party Food
Cuisine Chinese
Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

XO Sauce

  • 160 g dried scallops
  • 200 g dried shrimp
  • 100 g proscuitto
  • 6 shallots (or 2 onions)
  • 1 garlic bulb, peeled
  • 50 g dried chilli
  • 5 birds eye chillis
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 4 cups vegetable oil

Pipis Stir Fry

  • 250 g Chang's Rice Noodle Vermicelli
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 kg pipis
  • 1 – 2 tbsp tablespoons of homemade XO sauce (see above)
  • 1 tbsp Chang's Oyster Sauce
  • 1 tsp Chang's Oyster Sauce (optional)
  • 1 tbsp cornflour mixed with ½ cup cold water

Garnish

  • Spring onion

Instructions
 

To make the XO sauce

  • In separate bowls, soak the dried scallops and dried shrimp in boiling water for at least one hour. Drain and allow to cool, then roughly shred the scallops with your fingers and set aside.
  • In a food processor, roughly chop the dried shrimp and set aside.
  • Then blend the garlic and shallots and set aside, followed by the chillies, salt and prosciutto.
  • Heat the oil in a pan and add all the chopped ingredients. Simmer on a low heat for 20 – 40 minutes until the sauce darkens and becomes aromatic.
  • Transfer to sterilised jars, ensuring there is enough oil to cover the top. This recipe makes 1.35kg of sauce, about 4 medium sized jars. Keep refrigerated for several months.

Stir-frying the pipis

  • To prepare the pipis in XO sauce with vermicelli, firstly check with the fishmonger that the pipis have been cleaned as there's nothing worse that biting into sandy grit.
  • Chang's Rice Noodle Vermicelli cooks in just two minutes in noodle soups, or ten minutes in salads and stir-fries. Simply place the required noodle portions in a large bowl, cover with boiling water and let stand for ten minutes. Strain, and transfer to a frying pan or wok with half the peanut oil, cook for 2 – 5 minutes on each side until crisp. Place the fried vermicelli on the serving plate.
  • In the same pan, heat up the remaining peanut oil, and add the pipis, XO sauce and oyster sauce. Stir for 2 – 3 minutes until the pipis open. Make a slurry with the cornflour and water and whisk into the simmering pan to thicken the liquid into a gravy.
  • To serve, pour the pipis and sauce over the fried vermicelli and garnish with sliced spring onion.

While it might be costly to add as much dried scallops as I have, remember that a little goes a long way with XO sauce. Just a spoonful can elevate a few ordinary ingredients into an exquisite creation. You’ll find that the bold complex flavours are a delightful reward for very little effort if you have a food processor handy!

I’m particularly fond of vermicelli for weeknight dinners because of its versatility and speedy preparation time. But with the addition of pipis and my chunky homemade XO sauce, this really becomes a dish that impresses!

With the XO sauce at hand, earlier this week, I was also able to whip up dinner in five minutes. I boiled a pack of Chang’s Egg Noodles, made with egg whites only (with added protein) for four minutes, strained it and tossed through a tablespoon of the homemade XO sauce. This was served with some blanched green beans and was insanely tasty.

As you can see, we’ve become quite the baller couple, adding this decadent XO sauce to anything and everything. I simply can’t wait to gift these little jars of gold to the family.

This blog post was made possible thanks to our bronze sponsor, Chang’s, Australia’s much-loved family-owned Asian food brand. Chang’s has a huge range of quality Asian noodles and sauces, including more than 30 gluten free options, available from all major supermarkets. For more information on Chang’s products, visit www.changs.com

This post originally appeared on I Ate My Way Through and has been republished with full permission.

Author

  • Jen is the mama of the On The Slow Lane family. She is an accidental over-achiever and a reformed workaholic. Jen was formerly an online marketing agency owner for 11 years and was also the founder of I Ate My Way Through, an award-winning food & travel blog and food tours/events company. After what feels like a lifetime of unconscious over-consumption, she transitioned to being vegan almost four years ago and has been trying to live more mindfully and consciously since.

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