Contra's Jeremiah Stone
Contra's Jeremiah Stone

Seriously, won’t this Contra chef give us his sauce secrets?

Well, sort of. But this is why Jeremiah Stone feels his XO Sauce is one secret that shouldn’t make it into print

In many ways Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske are the perfect cookbook authors. The chefs’ contemporary American restaurants, Contra and Wildair, serve some of the most sought after and interesting food in America right now. They’re old enough to have travelled a little and tried many different cuisines, but still young enough to question culinary tradition. They also write well, and have a good eye for detail. In fact, the only problem lies with giving up a few of those details. Jeremiah, in particular, feels some recipes shouldn’t have made it into their A Very Serious Cookbook.

“Growing up, I heard every good Chinese chef had his most secret recipes locked away in his head, and with them a lifetime of experiences and knowledge taken to the grave,” explains the chef, whose parents were born in Shanghai. “Chinese cooks do not just hand down recipes. So, when we talked about which dishes to include in this book, the littleneck clams with XO sauce made me sweat a little.” 

 

Littleneck Clam, Almond Milk, XO. Photography by Matty Yangwoo Kim
Littleneck Clam, Almond Milk, XO. Photography by Matty Yangwoo Kim

It wasn’t the size or quantity of clams in this popular Contra dish that bothered Stone, or the almond milk. “It was the XO sauce. The Chinese part,” he says. “Everyone thought I was kidding when I said I wasn’t going to give a recipe for it, but I wasn’t and I still might not, we’ll see.”

The sauce, a tangy, seafood concoction, holds a special place in Stone’s heart. “XO is a condiment made up of dried scallops and shrimp (prawns) that came out of the Hong Kong restaurant scene in the ’80s. There isn’t any actual Cognac in the sauce, but it’s said the name refers more to “extra old” - that and the type of Cognac (XO) that all the Chinese chefs drank after work,” he explains. “My dad would make a remark about a restaurant being a good one if they are willing to put a huge dollop of XO sauce on the table for you.

Stone admits that his XO sauce isn’t particularly involved or special; and you can buy XO ready-made anyway. “However, it’s probably the Chinese in me (100 percent, for the record) that made me reluctant to share it,” he says. “Fabián says it’s the only thing I have absolute control over, so that’s why I won’t tell anybody how to make it; but I think he’s just upset that he doesn’t know how to make it.”

 

Jeremiah's XO sauce ingredients. As reproduced in A Very Serious Cookbook
Jeremiah's XO sauce ingredients. As reproduced in A Very Serious Cookbook

“It’s kind of a joke among my cooks, since it’s the one thing I won’t show anyone how to make. Truth is, it changes from time to time. There are arbitrary things I do sometimes for no reason at all just because I’m always tinkering with the sauce. Once, I stirred the sauce with a fork because it was in my hand at that moment, and a cook turned to me and said, “Ahh, so THAT’S the secret!” There aren’t really many secrets to the sauce, but it’s one of those things I like to make to taste. I’d suggest you prepare it in the same way.” 

 

A Very Serious Cookbook
A Very Serious Cookbook

 

To find out whether Stone does or does not give up his special sauce recipe you’ll have to buy A Very Serious Cookbook. We can, of course, guarantee you that, there are plenty of other recipes in there we’ve managed to coax out of the guys' heads and hands and set down on paper for posterity. To find out more, go here.