Easy - you got this
Seafood in Vietnam, particularly in the south, is in abundance and is exported all around the world. Because of this, seafood is a huge part of Vietnamese culture and there are certain dishes that have the power to immediately identify someone as Vietnamese, like how moules frites (mussels and fries) identify a Belgian (not French) family and how spaghetti vongole identifies a Campania, Naples family. Lemongrass pipis is a recipe that every Vietnamese household would know and cook, sometimes on a weekly basis, due to Australia’s vast pipi population and sustainability.
Seafood is often found fresh in Vietnam, so most Vietnamese recipes featuring seafood are kept quite simple, particularly when it comes to the cooking methods involved. I firmly believe the best way to cook pipis is to steam them, or use any process that involves intense heat and has them ready in an instant, this recipe only takes 10 mins to deliver kilos of pipis to the table.
This dish involves bringing beer to the boil with lemongrass to infuse its flavour, then throwing in the pipis and placing a lid on to allow steam to cook the pipis at the top and direct heat to the pipis on the bottom. If pipis are not local in your area, any type of cockle or clam would also produce delectable results. Growing up in South Australia, Goolwa pipis were at my fingertips, almost literally (you can forage them off Goolwa beach). Goolwa is a three hour drive, so the local fisherman’s market had to make do when I couldn’t make the trek.
Mum and I often bought two kilos of pipis every Sunday from the fisherman’s markets, and much to our fortune, my dad and brother were not big fans so we would both go pipi mad. I was in charge of the lemon dipping sauce and mum was on the pans. Even though pipis are all put in the pot at once, they typically cook one at a time. You know a pipi is cooked when it naturally pops open. One by one they would open and immediately we would dip them and pop them in our mouths. Mum liked to dip it in nuoc mam cham, but I preferred the lemon dipping sauce. This is a moment that Í’ll cherish for a long time as it allowed mum to share her love of Vietnamese-style pipis with me, and over the years has allowed me to understand why Vietnamese homes prepare pipis in this way. It’s another one of those classic Vietnamese meals that brings the family together.
So, if your fish market has some fresh pipis on hand and you feel like a quick seafood fix, do yourself a favour, crack a beer and prepare this easy recipe for a quintessential Vietnamese lemongrass pipi flavour that will delight the whole family.
1kg fresh/live pipis
3 stalks lemongrass crushed
180ml beer (half a beer)
Lemon juice from 1 lemon
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1. Add lemongrass and beer to a medium pot and bring to the boil.
2. Add pipis, then place a lid on and cook on medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes or until pipis start to open. Take the lid off and remove pipis with a pair of tongs or chopsticks as they open.
Tip: keep pot on the heat when removing pipis as not all the pipis will open at once.
3. To make the dipping sauce, combine lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix well.
4. To enjoy, grab a pipi, dip into the sauce and bite the pipi meat off the shell. Don’t forget to sip on the broth in between pipis for extra umami flavour!