Pipis with XO Sauce

Pipis are small clams native to New Zealand with asymmetrical shells that are brightly purple on the inside. I have yet to find them available in New York City, but at the Sydney Fish Market, every retailer (I went to Claudio's) carries them. 

Yield: 4 servings (as a first course) 

Ingredients

2 lb fresh, live pipis 

3 shallots, peeled and finely minced

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced 

1oz piece of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

2 tablespoons XO sauce (see note below)

1/3 cup Shaoxing cooking wine 

1/2 cup clam stock 

3 long red chillies, cut into 1/8" slices on a bias

3 scallions, green parts only, cut into 1/8" slices on a bias 

1/4 cup watercress sprouts, for garnish

Method

To clean the pipis, place them in a large bowl with 5 cups cold water and 2 tablespoons of salt so they are fully submerged. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours so that they spit out any grit and sand. When you are ready to cook, lift the pipis out of the water and drain well. 

Set a wok or medium saucepan over medium high heat and gently sauté the shallot and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the ginger and sauté for another couple of minutes, stirring so you don't let any ingredients burn. 

Add the pipis along with the wine, stock, sugar and XO sauce. Increase the heat to high and cover the wok or saucepan tightly with a lid for 4-5 minutes, letting the pipis steam until all of them have opened. Take off the heat and garnish with the fresh chillies, scallions and watercress sprouts.


XO Sauce is an intensely flavourful, oily Chinese condiment that is spicy, sweet, smoky, savory and a little funky all at once. While 'XO' usually denotes the age ('extra old') of cognac, none is used to make this sauce. The name, instead, refers to how expensive the ingredients are (especially the dried scallops). It can help add an exotic depth to any dish, from noodles to stir-fried vegetables. 

XO Sauce ingredients from the top left corner, clockwise: dried red chillies, dried shrimp, lap cheong (Chinese sausage), shallots, garlic, dried scallops 

XO Sauce ingredients from the top left corner, clockwise: dried red chillies, dried shrimp, lap cheong (Chinese sausage), shallots, garlic, dried scallops