Reproducing Nobu’s XO Salsa

Previously, on tastingmenu.wordpress.com –

* https://tastingmenu.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/sake-steamed-fish-a-la-new-style-sashimi/
* https://tastingmenu.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/matsuhisa-la/
* https://tastingmenu.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/steamed-hake-with-dry-miso/

So my wife has thoroughly enjoyed the steamed fish dishes originating from the Nobu restaurants.  Judging from the record, new style sashimi, sashimi with dry miso currently have steamed fish counterparts on the Nobu menu. Near as I can tell, XO salsa is currently being used for sashimi at the Nobu restaurants; I wanted to do a hot application in this instance.    And since XO sauce goes well with baby bok choy, I thought, “Why not do the same thing here.  Sake-steam the fish, put on a bed of baby bok choy and top with the Nobu XO salsa?”  I also remember having the XO salsa topped sashimi as part of my omakase meals at Matsuhisa LA.  But what exactly was this XO salsa?   While looking about the internet, I came across the following:

* http://www.citylifehk.com/citylife/eng/hotel_insider_0709.jsp (With Chef Nobu Matsuhisa)
Q: What are some Hong Kong-influenced dishes?
A: We have fresh sashimi with XO sauce – but it’s called ‘XO salsa’. The salsa has dried scallops and shrimp with oil, chopped onions, cilantro and ponzu sauce. We top this on to fresh fish.

* http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/articles/blogs-beijing/the-dish-bj/nobus-head-chef-talks-their-april-opening/ (with Executive Chef Oyvind Naesheim of Nobu Beijing)

Q: Can you tell us about any special dishes you’re doing just for the Beijing branch?
A: …When I got to Hong Kong, I tried XO sauce, and I was kind of amazed. It has a lot of flavor, a lot of umami. So I was thinking, how can we try to use this in Nobu? Next to the Nobu, in the same hotel, was a Chinese restaurant. So I asked the chef there, and he gave me recipe for XO sauce, and I went back and tried to make it, but I wasn’t really happy. It still tasted too much like Chinese sauce. Because we have a lot of influence from South America, we use some salsas. Salsa is tomato, oil, lemon juice, salt. Because XO has seafood, I didn’t need the tomatoes. I also took out the oil and added fresh onion. Then I used Japanese soy sauce instead of salt, and Japanese vinegar instead of lemon juice. I took it back, and the Chinese chefs said, “This is not XO,” and I said, “Yes!” It’s XO salsa, which we serve on top of sashimi. It became very popular.

So piecing together this information, I gathered that the Nobu XO Salsa contains: ponzu (supplies soy, japanese rice vinegar and lemon juice), red onion in an XO base of dried scallops/shrimp in oil. But how to make the XO base?  Fortunately I had a copy of David Chang’s Momofuku, which contained a recipe for XO sauce (p. 154) that seemed like what I needed for my XO base. An online copy of the recipe can be found here:

http://userealbutter.com/2012/02/22/chinese-xo-sauce-recipe/

David Chang’s Momofuku XO Sauce

2 oz (weighed out) dried scallops
2 oz (weighed out) dried shrimp
1/2 cup garlic cloves, peeled (~3 3/8oz, weighed out)
1/2 cup fresh ginger, peeled and sliced (~2 1/2 oz, weighed out)
1 cup country ham, chopped (or use Chinese sausage)
1/2 cup grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
1 tbsp crushed dried red chile (I used gojugaru here as a nod to David Chang and his heritage)

Dried shrimp, weighed out

Dried shrimp, weighed out

Dried scallops, weighed out

Dried scallops, weighed out

~1/2 cup of peeled garlic

~1/2 cup of peeled garlic

~1/2 cup garlic weighed out

~1/2 cup garlic weighed out

~1/2 cup of peeled sliced ginger weighed out

~1/2 cup of peeled sliced ginger weighed out

Since I was planning on trying to replicate Nobu’s XO salsa, I doubt very much that ham would be used in the recipe, so I would drop that component.  As a result, that would also remove the salt, normally found in country hams.  So the XO would not keep as long as David Chang mentioned in his book.  The salt would also serve as a pickling/presevative in the XO.  Since my XO base would be lacking salt, I’d have to store portions of it in the freezer, thawing just what I’d need if I were keeping it long term.

I set about to make the XO ‘base’. I started by placing the scallops and shrimp into individual rice bowls and filled each with water so that the scallops/shrimp were covered with water. The instructions set to let them sit overnight (I assumed this meant about 8 hours).  After the shrimp/scallops were rehydrated, I began making the XO base by placing the garlic and ginger in a food processor and pulsing them until finely chopped. I set the results into a side

garlic/ginger finely minced in the food processor

garlic/ginger finely minced in the food processor

bowl. Next, I drained the scallops and shrimp and then food processed them until finely chopped.

Shrimp to be processed

Shrimp to be processed

Scallops added to the processed shrimp

Scallops added to the processed shrimp

The processed scallop and shrimp were placed in a bowl next  to the garlic and ginger mix.

Top: Processed Garlic/Ginger, Bottom: Processed Scallop/Shrimp

Top: Processed Garlic/Ginger, Bottom: Processed Scallop/Shrimp

In a 12-inch sauté pan, I heated the oil over medium-high heat for a minute or so and then added the chile. At this

Grapeseed oil for cooking the XO base

Grapeseed oil for cooking the XO base

point I realized that what I was doing was making an infused chile oil.  So I cooked the contents (stirring) for another 2 minutes.

Cooking the dried chili flakes in the oil

Cooking the dried chili flakes in the oil

At this point I was ready to add the garlic/ginger/shrimp/scallop mix, so I reduced the heat to a very low  and added the remaining ingredients to the pan (garlic/ginger first and then the scallop/shrimp). I let the whole thing

Cooking the XO base (oil, the chili, the garlic/ginger mix, and then the shrimp/scallop mix)

Cooking the XO base (oil, the chili, the garlic/ginger mix, and then the shrimp/scallop mix)

cook over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing was stuck to the pan. The sauce pretty much dried out and took a dark tan color. I removed it from the heat, let it cool to room temperature and store in a

XO base finished, cooled to room temperature and ready for the refridgerator

XO base finished, cooled to room temperature and ready for the refridgerator

covered glass container in the refrigerator.

So how to make the Nobu XO salsa? I looked up Nobu’s salsa recipes and found:

Maui Onion Salsa (from Nobu: The Cookbook)

Yield: 2-1/4 cups (450ml)

1 cup (100g) finely chopped Maui onion
3/4 cup (105g) finely chopped tomato
6 tablespoons ponzu
2 teaspoons orange juice (freshly squeezed)
1 teaspoon hot chili sauce

Combine all the ingredients.

So I thought I would swap out the hot chili sauce and tomato based on what Chef Naesheim said and keep the ponzu as per Chef Matsuhisa’s comment. So the question was – how much cilantro (perhaps added at the very end of making the salsa)? I would definitely ditch the orange juice. As for the onion, I would swap out the maui onion for the red onion (and I definitely remember red onion being in my XO salsa omakase dishes).

So the recipe would look like:

1/2 cup finely diced red onion
3/8  cup of xo base
3 tablespoons ponzu

and with an educated guess, I decided that 3 sprigs of cilantro (finely minced) would be mixed in at the very end to

Clockwise: minced red onion, XO, cilantro, ponzu

Clockwise: minced red onion, XO, cilantro, ponzu

3/8 cup of the XO Base

3/8 cup of the XO Base

XO Base with finely minced red onion, ponzu and cilantro

XO Base with finely minced red onion, ponzu and cilantro

complete the salsa.   All the hard work went into making the XO base.

So like the steamed fish (new style sashimi-style, dry miso style) that I’d done before, I seasoned ~1 lb grouper fillet

Grouper fillet being prepared for the steamer

Grouper fillet being prepared for the steamer

with a teaspoon of 4:1 salt/pepper mix (using the three-finger pinch method).  The fillet got placed into a heatproof dish and about 3 tablespoons of sake was sprinkled over it, covered with wrap and placed into a steamer at high heat for about 15 minutes.  In the meantime, some baby bok choy was blanched and then set aside.  When the fish was ready, the baby bok choy was set onto a serving dish, the fish fillet placed on top and then a generous amount of the XO salsa was spooned over the fish.

Finishing the dish

Finishing the dish

Upon tasting the dish, my wife and I were quite satisfied with the flavors. The XO salsa flavor seemed to agree with what I

Sake Steamed Grouper With Baby Bok Choy And XO Salsa

Sake Steamed Grouper With Baby Bok Choy And XO Salsa

had at Matsuhisa, LA. There was one problem, however – my wife both agreed that the XO Salsa lacked a little bit of a punch.  We both thought that the XO salsa I had made could have used a bit more seasoning, perhaps a bit more salt.  The salt issue seemed understandable since the country ham was removed from the original recipe.  To resolve the issue, I think I would need to do one of two things the next time I make this dish (unless Naesheim-san or Matsuhisa-sama would like to step in and help) – either (1) use usukuchi soy sauce when making the ponzu or (2) directly adding more salt into the salsa.  In any event, I liked what I made and would like another opportunity to try this again.  Thank you Chef David Chang for sharing your XO Sauce recipe and thank you Matsuhisa-sama and Naesheim-san for pointing me in the right direction in attempting to make your XO Salsa.

Update

I made another meal today (31 Jan 2013) of broiled salmon, and decided to top it with the XO salsa.  This time, I made the ponzu with the usukuchi soy sauce and it seemed to resolve the under-salted issue.  The recipe now appears to be:

1/2 cup finely diced red onion
3/8  cup of xo base
3 tablespoons ponzu made with usukuchi soy sauce
3 springs of cilantro, finely minced

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