The most wonderful thing happened to me the other evening as we took a stroll along the beach, just as the sun dipped below the horizon. As we ambled, chatting inconsequentially, we noticed two middle aged couples stooping occasionally, rootling around in the sand and occasionally popping something in their bags. As we drew closer I could see what looked like shells in their bags, so I asked them – what was the go?
The two Italian ladies, for Italian they were, told me they were picking clams as they were enjoying their stroll, and showed me how to look for the tell tale pattern they leave in the sand as the surf retreats, wave after wave. To my delight, I caught one pretty much immediately and bam! I was hooked.
My ladies were keen to pass on their knowledge and boy, was I keen to learn, so we walked together for a while and I watched as they would stare intently at the retreating waves, and then pounce!
The key seemed to be a tiny catch in the sand, as if of a twig in a stream, and as it disappeared, it left behind it a slightly indented area in the sand. Very occasionally, it gave off a giveaway bubble as well.
I had a go myself, and quickly found I was quite good at it. That, or these clams are terminally slow. In no time I had a reasonable handful, and not much time after that, quarter of a bag full (Mr C had a spare on him, the well prepared chap). I felt elemental, a forager, a hunter gatherer, living off the land as early people must have, and other post gin and tonic romantic bollocks. It was pretty exciting though. So much fun! Before I knew it the moon was up and the light was the sulphur yellow of the electric floods by the RSL, and it was time to go home with my prizes.
Being a Brit, I’m not 100% on local species yet, so it took a search on the Sydney Seafood School’s website to realise that my clams were the much vaunted pipis I’ve heard Australians talk about. Fabulous!
Next, desanding them in fresh, then salted water – after reading a few posts on the best way to get them to spit the grit – it was amazing to see their little tongues (feet? Are they like snails?) poking out into the salted water, tasting their new home. Albeit a very temporary home. For looming large in their immediete future lay pan frying with garlic, ginger, spring onions and soy, with a splash of Mirin.
They took about 5 minutes to open under their steam bath. Next time* we’ll spend more time on the degritting process – we cracked after an hour and cooked them up anyway, and to be honest, they were kinda crunchier than optimal – but they were delicious!
*UPDATE : I’ve subsequently been told that fishing for pipis to eat is apparently restricted to certain areas and, as I’ve no idea where those areas are, I won’t be catching any more. I’ve amended this post and don’t recommend anyone does as I mistakenly did.