Food of love
I love to give home-made gifts when visiting friends and relatives over the Lunar New Year. Doing so is much more personal and thoughtful than proffering tins of Danish cookies and bottles of expensive cognac (although the alcohol is usually a very welcome gift, too). The ingredients used in these recipes are symbolic, said to bring wealth and fortune to the recipient.
Feel free to vary the proportions of dried scallops and shrimp, as long as the combined weight of dried seafood is about 600 grams. You don't need to use the super-expensive, very large dried scallops, but they should be of reasonable quality; the small ones (1cm or less) can be tough and chewy. The shrimp should be as small as possible, though; if they're too large, they need to be chopped into tiny pieces, and if they're too hard, you'll need to simmer them in water to soften them.
500 grams dried scallops
300 grams shallots, minced
12 large garlic cloves, minced
100 grams small dried shrimp
75 grams Chinese dried ham
6-8 red bird's-eye chillies
About 10 grams fine chilli flakes
60ml fish sauce or soy sauce
1 heaped tbsp dried shrimp eggs
1 litre canola or corn oil, plus more as needed
Rinse the dried scallops. Pour 500ml of water in a wide saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the scallops and cover with the lid. Simmer, stirring often, until the scallops are very soft and have absorbed all of the water (about 15 minutes). If they seem dry, stir in more water. While the scallops are still hot, pull them apart into fine shreds, discarding any hard bits. Alternatively, use the chopper attachment of a food processor or immersion blender to shred the scallops, but don't overprocess them.
Cut the ham into 3mm cubes. Remove the stems and seeds from the bird's-eye chillies, then mince the flesh.
Pour 500ml of oil into a wok then add the shallot. Heat over a medium flame, stirring often, until the oil starts to sizzle. Stir in the scallop, garlic, shrimp, ham, chilli, 10 grams of chilli flakes and the fish sauce or soy sauce. Mix well then add another 500ml of oil. Bring to a simmer then lower the heat and cook very slowly - the oil should sizzle very gently. Cook for at least three hours, stirring often, and add more oil as needed when the mixture becomes dry. After three hours, stir in the shrimp eggs (and more chilli flakes, if desired) and cook for two more hours, or until the mixture is dark, thick and oily.
Ladle the XO sauce into a large, sterilised jar and pour in more oil so the ingredients are submerged. Store in the fridge, and decant into smaller jars as needed.
Confit'd kumquats or kut
Although I've often candied fruit peel, I thought that confit'd whole fruits were out of my reach without a saccharometer. Then I found a recipe for confit'd clementines on a blog, Lucy's Kitchen Notebook, and have used it for kumquats, kut (which resemble small oranges and, like kumquats, can be eaten skin, seeds and all), apricots and strawberries.
The fruit is soaked in increasingly dense sugar solutions, which, through osmosis, sucks the liquid out of the fruit and replaces it with sugar syrup. Lucy's recipe calls for adding more sugar every other day. The whole process takes 14 days and I use this method when I have enough time. But kumquats and kut are smaller than clementines, so you can cut down on the resting time, which means the fruit confit will be ready in time for the Lunar New Year.
It's essential that the fruit is very fresh and that you pierce it many times all over with a sterilised needle, or the fruit shrivels, rather than staying plump.
1kg kumquats or kut
1,650 grams granulated sugar, divided
300 grams glucose or corn syrup
Cognac or brandy, as needed
Rinse the fruit, then remove and discard the stems. Hold a sewing needle over an open flame to sterilise it, let it cool then use it to pierce each kumquat (or kut) to the centre at least a dozen times all over. Put the fruit in a large pan, add one litre of water, bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Use a large slotted ladle to remove the fruit, leaving behind the water. Add the glucose or corn syrup and 750 grams of sugar to the pan, stir to dissolve then bring to a boil. Put the fruit back into the pan and let the syrup come to a boil again. Lower the flame, simmer gently for one minute then remove from the heat. Cool for about 30 minutes, then place a circle of parchment paper - cut to the diameter of the pan - directly over the ingredients. Place a clean plate on top (to help hold down the fruit so it stays submerged in the syrup) and leave for 24 hours.
Use a large slotted ladle to remove the fruit from the syrup. Add 150 grams of sugar to the pan, stir to dissolve and bring to a boil. Put the fruit back into the pan, bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer gently for one minute. Cool for 30 minutes, then place the parchment circle and plate on top and leave for another 24 hours. Repeat this process five times, each time leaving the fruit to infuse in the syrup for 24 hours.
On the eighth day, transfer the kumquats to sterilised jars, adding enough syrup to each jar so the fruit can 'swim'. Top off each jar with a little cognac or brandy, so the fruit is submerged. Cover the jars with sterilised lids. The fruit can be eaten immediately but it's better after ageing for a couple of weeks. The confit keeps for months in a cool, dark place.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee