Surf Clams, Pipis and Vongole are sold live, often all under the name Clam. They are a coastal and estuarine bivalve, with the meat being the whole muscle inside the shell.
Different species are harvested along the entire coasts of Australia, mostly by hand methods such as ‘raking’. Supply can fluctuate seasonally, the SA fishery is closed from June to October when the Pipi’s (often marketed as Coorong Pipi or Goolwa Cockles) spawn.
‘Baby Clams’ might be an imported product from chinese aquaculture. Remember that fishmongers are legally required to state the place of origin in their product labelling.
Pipis, cockles, periwinkles and other similar molluscs have wonderful flavours and add an interesting touch to your menu. Various species can be eaten either raw or gently steamed or poached. Alternatively, they can be used in the preparation of fritters (blended with a white finfish such as ling) or in chowders.
All Surf Clams, Pipi's and Vongole require purging to remove the fine sand or grit inside the shell. To do this, place in lightly salted cool water for several hours or overnight. Your fishmonger might have done this for you.
These bivalves respond well to brief cooking. Cook only until the shells open to prevent the meat from shrivelling and becoming tough. Steam or poach with asian flavours, BBQ, or open with white wine or stock before tossing through a pasta, soup or curry.
Most harvesting occurs by hand and can be regulated locally by a system of quotas and closed seasons. Stock populations fluctuate year-to-year and NSW has seen a decline in stocks. In December 2011 the NSW Department of Primary Industries closed all NSW Pipi fisheries until 1 June 2012 out of concern over drastically diminished stocks.