Vongole were once commonly used in Australia as fishing bait, but exposure to more diverse cuisines has introduced us to eating them in dishes such as Italian spaghetti vongole, seafood chowder and paella.
While they are found all around the coast, there are two types commercially available in South Australia: white vongole and grey vongole. White vongole are sourced from sub-tidal waters in the Coffin Bay harvest zone called Port Douglas on the Eyre Peninsula. The grey variety comes from the same waters at Port Douglas and also further west on the Eyre Peninsula at Venus Bay, Streaky Bay and Smoky Bay.
They are available throughout the year, with the harvest limited only by severe weather and high tides. The winter weather from April to July usually requires fishermen to rake for vongole in cold, neck-deep waters.
Vongole quality and sustainability is maintained by seven fishery quota holders on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. The designated harvest zones are monitored by the South Australian Shellfish Quality Assurance Program to ensure water quality and species biomass meets all guidelines.
The seafood are generally sold live or as a Cryovac-packaged product. If buying loose vongole, it’s best to check if they are alive. A closed shell is a good sign; if the vongole have suffered temperature shock or have spent a long time out of the water (more than seven days), then they are likely to show signs of opening. If they are open on display, but close when tapped, then they are still alive and safe to consume, but probably best eaten sooner rather than later.
Cryovac vongole generally have a 10 day shelf-life from date of packing. It is important that they are kept chilled at all times, between 2 and 5 degrees. Store loose vongole in a bowl with a wet towel over the top until ready to use.
Vongole are sourced from a sandy habitat, so it is best to rinse before cooking to remove any grit. They do not need to be purged at the time of harvest or before cooking at home.
During cooking, the shells will open and the flesh will easily come away. If the shells do not open on completion of cooking, and they smell okay, this usually means they are still safe to eat and will just require some help to open with a knife.
Try cooking up a pot of vongole as you would a pot of mussels, with wine, garlic and cream, and serve with crusty bread.
More information about South Australian vongole can be found here.
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