Stir-Fried Rice Cakes with Zucchini, Mushrooms, and XO Sauce (Diana Kuan)

Stir-Fried Rice Cakes with Zucchini, Mushrooms, and XO Sauce

Diana Kuan
February 10, 2019 10:30PM (UTC)

Reprinted from Red Hot Kitchen: Classic Asian Chili Sauces from Scratch and Delicious Dishes to Make With Them by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019, Diana Kuan.


Stir-Fried Rice Cakes with Zucchini, Mushrooms, and XO Sauce

I often crave the chewy texture of rice cakes, also known as nian gao in Mandarin. You can find fresh rice cakes in Chinese or Korean grocery stores, usually in the refrigerated section near the fresh noodles and tofu. They will need to soak in room-temperature water for 2 hours (or more depending on package instructions). Or you can use frozen rice cakes, which you have to thaw before soaking. Stir-fried with XO sauce and vegetables, they are an addictive entree alongside other dishes at the table, or just eaten on their own.


Serves 4 as part of a multicourse meal

8 ounces fresh rice cakes

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1 shallot, thinly sliced

1 large zucchini, cut into half-moons about ½ inch thick

12 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced


1/3 cup chicken stock or vegetable broth

2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

2 cups shredded cabbage

¼ cup XO sauce*

1 teaspoon rice vinegar


  1. Soak the rice cakes in room-temperature water for 2 hours or according to package directions. Drain.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the garlic, ginger, and shallot and stir-fry just until aromatic, about 20 seconds. Add the zucchini and shiitake mushrooms and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the rice cakes and stir-fry until they start to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add the stock or broth, cover the wok or skillet with a lid, and let steam until the rice cakes have softened and most of the liquid is gone, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and add the rice wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a spatula if any of the rice cakes have gotten stuck to the bottom. Add the cabbage, XO sauce, and rice vinegar. Stir so that everything in the pan gets evenly coated and cook for another 1 minute. Adjust the seasoning with salt if needed. Transfer to a plate and serve.

*Traditional XO Sauce

Watch Diana Kuan make XO sauce in the Salon Kitchen

“XO” is Hong Kong shorthand for something high-quality and luxurious, originating from a description for aged cognac that was popular in the territory. Created in Hong Kong just a few decades ago by a few enterprising chefs, the earthy and aromatic XO sauce immediately became beloved by local diners. Later, as Hong Kong chefs emigrated to the US, Canada, Australia, and beyond, and opened restaurants, more people around the world were introduced to the wonders of this magical ingredient.

More of a coarse paste in texture than a sauce, XO sauce is unique in that it comes from an area that doesn’t use a lot of chilies in its cooking. In fact, even with the high number of dried chilies used, it’s the most moderately spiced of all the sauces in this book. But the flavor is spectacular, a well-balanced mix of chilies, seafood, and smoky bacon.

A jar of high-quality XO sauce can be incredibly pricey, so I’ve gotten into the habit of making it at home. The dried shrimp and scallops create a deeply rich flavor that is the epitome of umami. Look for dried shrimp that have an orange hue as these will have much deeper flavor than the opaque white ones. And while whole dried scallops can be expensive, you can save money by buying smaller scallops or shredded scallops. Traditionally, Jinhua ham is also added, but since it is next to impossible to find outside of China, I substitute bacon for the smoky flavor.


XO sauce making takes a bit of patience, so to make the most of your time, this recipe makes more in volume than most of the other sauces in this book. You’ll want to create a big batch, but it’s well worth the effort. With so much flavor packed into every spoonful, you only need a minimal number of fresh ingredients to create flavor-filled dishes. XO sauce will keep for up to 1 month in the fridge, if you don’t manage to slather it on everything the first week!

Makes 1 quart

6 ounces dried scallops


3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

60 dried red cayenne, Japones, or Tien Tsin chilies, coarsely chopped

3 fresh jalapeño or Fresno chilies

6 ounces dried shrimp

3 large shallots, coarsely chopped

4 ounces bacon, minced

⅓ cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons brown sugar

  1. Place the scallops in a steamer insert and fit the steamer insert into a small saucepan filled with 1 inch of water. Bring the water to a boil. Cover the pan and steam until soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer the scallops to a cutting board and save about 3/4 cup of the liquid in the pan. When the scallops are cool enough to touch, shred them by breaking them up with your fingers. Transfer to a food processor and process until they resemble very fine threads. Transfer to a bowl.
  2. In the food processor, combine the garlic, dried chilies, and fresh chilies and pulse until it resembles a paste. Transfer the garlic-chili paste to another bowl.
  3. In the food processor, pulse the dried shrimp, shallots, and bacon until minced. Scrape out and set aside in a third bowl.
  4. In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp/shallot/bacon mixture and stir-fry until the mixture is bubbling, very fragrant, and starting to crisp up, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the brown sugar and cook until the mixture is slightly caramelized, another 30 seconds. Add the shredded scallops and garlic-chili paste and cook for another 30 seconds, then add the reserved scallop steaming juices. Cook until the liquid is almost gone, another 1 to 2 minutes. Allow to cool before transferring to glass containers for storage. The XO sauce will keep in a fridge for up to 2 months.

Reprinted from Red Hot Kitchen: Classic Asian Chili Sauces from Scratch and Delicious Dishes to Make With Them by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019, Diana Kuan.

To learn more about "Red Hot Kitchen," watch Diana Kuan's "Salon Talks" episode.

Diana Kuan

Diana Kuan is an author an educator and her most recent book is "Red Hot Kitchen: Classic Asian Chili Sauces from Scratch and Delicious Dishes to Make With Them"

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