Pipis with XO sauce
Sometimes things fit together perfectly. Pipis are my favourite ingredient and collecting them is my favourite pastime. Every time I head back to my family home on the south-west coast of Victoria I make time to “shuffle” for pipis. On an outgoing low tide you get your bare feet into the sand on the waterline and shuffle until you feel the shells. Then you gather them up with your hands and put them in a bucket of sea water. After they’ve “purged” for a few hours, you cook them. Simple and satisfying.
Armed with my amateur pipi-shuffling technique I recently visited one of the most impressive commercial food harvesting operations I have seen. Goolwa PipiCo is a co-operative working out of the Coorong, south-east of Adelaide. The shells are hand-, or rather foot-, harvested by teams of people and measured on the beach. Stocking numbers are monitored carefully along with the pristine environment from which the pipis are collected. Luckily my skills were not relied upon for the harvest – my delicate feet lasted all of 15 minutes in the near-frozen sand.
Eating pipis cooked in XO sauce has become a bonding tradition for hospitality workers throughout the land when they knock off from their evening shifts. Every major city has a late-night restaurant doing a version of this dish. There, at 2am, you’ll find off-duty chefs and waiters chowing down.
Consider this XO sauce recipe as a starting point for many seafood dishes – the variations are limitless. The umami flavour is a very welcome addition to any knock-together meal.
Pipis with XO sauce
Serves 2 as a meal
– 50g dried scallops
– 50g dried shrimp
– 50g garlic cloves
– 50g large red chilli, deseeded
– 50g ginger
– 50g prosciutto or other salted ham
– 100g shallots
– 500ml grapeseed oil
– 100ml light soy sauce
– 15g Korean dried chilli
– 200g flat rice noodles
– 1 bunch water spinach
– 50g fermented mustard greens
– 1kg pipis
– 150g XO sauce
Soak the scallops and the shrimp in just enough hot water to cover them.
Finely chop the garlic, chilli and ginger. Shred the prosciutto and slice the shallots into half moons.
Strain the liquid from the scallops and shrimp and retain for cooking later. Pound the scallops and the shrimp meat separately using a mortar and pestle until it resembles floss.
In a heavy-based pot combine the fresh chilli, ginger, garlic and shallots with half of the oil. Cook this all together until it begins to get jammy but not too heavily coloured. Add the shrimp, scallops and prosciutto and cook for a further five minutes before adding the liquid from soaking along with the rest of the ingredients, including the rest of the oil. Let this cook on a low heat for 30 minutes to one hour. Transfer into small sealable glass jars and let cool with the lids off.
Prepare the rice noodles according to package instructions and set aside. Wash and roughly cut the water spinach. Chop the mustard greens finely.
Preheat a wok to high temperature before adding the pipis with one tablespoon of water. Steam and remove as they pop open, placing them into a bowl. Tip the last pipis, together with what liquid has remained, into the bowl and wipe the wok dry.
Add the XO sauce to the wok before it gets too hot. Once the sauce begins to fry, add the water spinach followed closely by the pipis and strain the juice into the wok. Mix the pipis in the XO sauce before adding the noodles, then toss the noodles to the bottom to allow for a slight toast on the wok surface. Finish with the mustard greens and mix vigorously. Distribute evenly into serving bowls.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 14, 2019 as "Buried pleasures". Subscribe here.