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Steve Manfredi Pipis

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  Pipies with chilli, parsley and white wine.

Pipies with chilli, parsley and white wine.
Photo: Jennifer Soo

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Up the beach, in the late afternoon as the tide receded, a group of people were doing what appeared to be a strange, tribal dance. As we got closer, it resembled a slow twist, feet disappearing into the sand and the wash. Up close, each had a bag slowly filling with pipis, dug out one by one from the soft, wet sand.

The pipi is a bivalve mollusc that likes to burrow at least 10 centimetres below the intertidal sand on ocean beaches. Its strong, muscular "foot" is prime bait for most surf-dwelling fish and delicious eating for humans. Coastal Aborigines have harvested them for thousands of years.

Jennifer Isaacs describes how it's done in Bush Food: "The hunter must be a fast digger and have very sharp eyesight. As the tide turns and each wave laps the sand, pipis bury themselves deeper in the wet sand. They go vertically, leaving only a small hole or bubble ... and can descend 30 centimetres in a couple of seconds."

(NSW Fisheries has ruled that, for health reasons, pipis may be collected legally on the state's beaches only for bait. Commercially fished pipis are perfectly safe to eat.)

Pipis are good with

White and red wine; extra virgin olive oil; butter; roasted sesame oil; XO sauce; soy sauce; black beans; lemon and lime; fresh herbs, especially parsley, thyme, marjoram, coriander, sage, basil and oregano; fried pancetta and bacon; leeks; onions; garlic; shallots; spring onions; capsicum; chilli; potatoes.

Steamed pipis in wine with tomato and garlic

In a large pot with a lid, lightly fry 3 minced garlic cloves in 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil for 30 seconds, making sure it doesn't brown. Add 1kg of well-washed pipis, 2 chopped ripe tomatoes, a 1/2 cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley and 2-3 chopped red chillies (optional). Turn the heat right up, season with a little salt and pepper and give the pipis a good stir for a few seconds. Add 1 cup of dry white wine and place the lid on the pot. They should all open in 3-4 min. Check that they have; sometimes it's just a matter of giving the pot a good shake or stirring the pipis so they have room to open. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 4.

Pirate's fish soup

This recipe is adapted from The Silver Spoon (Phaidon Press). In a casserole dish put: 1 red and 1 green capsicum, both seeded and sliced; 2 dried chillies, seeded and crumbled; 4 chopped garlic cloves; 1 cup of fresh herbs - thyme, basil, sage and chives; and 200ml each of extra virgin olive oil and red wine. Cook over a medium heat for 10min. Add 300g each of medium octopus tentacles and cleaned cuttlefish in bite-size tiles and simmer for 20 min. Add 300g of de-bearded mussels, 500g of pipis and 100ml of white rum. Mix well, cover and simmer for 5 min until the shells have opened. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. Makes enough for 6.


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