Thursday, January 28, 2021

Conch: A favorite and versatile island food

 

 

By Frances Diebler

Our world has “shrunk” so much in the last century that we can get foods from all over the world. However, to me it is not the same as eating the local “fare du jour” in their own country. In many areas in the Caribbean, the cooking is still simple, using mostly local grown and produced ingredients. As we all can imagine many local dishes are developed from using the natural fruits, vegetables, grains and animals that are indigenous to the area. Also, explorers and settlers to the Bahamas and Caribbean Islands brought with them many fruits and vegetables. They, along with the natives already there, developed recipes using local vegetation as well as cultivating the strange fruits and veggies that the travelers brought. This subject of native fruits, veggies, fish, and meat alone is a fascinating subject to me.

The travelers who came to the islands, opened the door to the local natives when they shared their culture with the locals. Having traveled the whole chain of islands from Bahamas throughout the Leeward and Windward Islands as well as Trinidad and Venezuela, we learned a lot about island foods and preparations. As you might expect, each island had a different “slant” on how to make many of the same foods.

Conch is a main stay throughout the islands.  It was valued for its meat as well as its lovely pink shell. Years ago conch was abundant to all islanders. As the years went by  more and more tourists transited the areas and were introduced to this beautiful  and versatile Mollusk. Conch was harvested for both its beautiful shell as well as the meat. Basically, a conch is a large sea snail. Today, conch is still a mainstay and is on most island menus in the restaurants and markets. There are recipes for conch chowder, conch fritters, conch salad and more. Each is a delight in its own way. Once the meat was removed from

 

 

the conch, the beautiful pink shells were cleaned and used to make all manner of things, trinkets and even arrows. The shell itself is a natural beauty appreciated by many shell collectors.

Perhaps many of you are familiar with the term, “The Conch Republic,” used in reference to the natives of Key West. That term was coined when many Bahamians began to migrate to the Keys in the 1800’s. Thus these immigrants became commonly known as “Conchs.” Perhaps the most popular uses of conch as a food are cracked conch, conch fritters and conch chowder. Christmas ornaments, jewelry, bowls, and more were then made out of the lovely pink shells. One of the conch’s lasting traditions is as a salute. It has become a tradition in many island areas including Florida Keys as well as Bahamas to blow the “conch horn” at sundown. What the locals do is  saw off the pointy tip of the conch, sand it down till the hole is smooth at the top and at sundown they blow into the hole of the conch to announce sunset. This tradition has spilled over to many boaters and visitors who still carry this tradition on board their vessels.

Many of you cruisers are very familiar with some of the dishes made with conch; others are only familiar with their beautiful shells. I would like to suggest some recipes using conch as its main ingredient such as: Conch Chowder, Cracked Conch, and Conch Salad.

Many local Floridians have their own favorite recipe for making conch dishes. I’ll try to present a basic recipe for making all of the three conch dishes mentioned above. Modify as you see fit.

CONCH CHOWDER:

  • 3 or 4 large conchs cleaned and ground in a meat grinder.
  • Large can of whole tomatoes diced.
  • 2 green peppers chopped.
  • 3 onions finely chopped.
  • 3 minced garlic cloves.
  • 2 potatoes peeled and chopped.
  • 2 quarts of water.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add a little hot sauce if you like it hot.

Sauté the onions, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes. Cook till veggies are soft. Add ground

 

 

conch and potatoes and simmer. You may have to add a little water to thin it out. Simmer for about one hour or less. For more info check out Linda Stradley and her recipes “What’s Cooking America.”

CRACKED CONCH:

To make a quick and easy conch dish try cracked conch:

  • 4 properly cleaned conch by washing the meat in lime and salted water and pound until meat is shredded.
  • Beat two eggs, add salt and pepper and dip floured conch in mixture.
  • Fry on both sides till golden brown.

In addition to the recipe you can “juice your fried conch up a notch by adding: ½ c. spiced rum, ½ c. orange juice, 1 tablespoon sugar, and tablespoons of unsalted butter. This coating is great for other seafood dishes that are pan fried.

CONCH SALAD:

One pound fresh conch or defrosted conch pounded and diced. Place in ceramic bowl with ½ c. of lime juice and 3 tbs. of coconut milk. Marinate for 30 minutes.  Drain conch. Transfer to a clean bowl with ¼ c. lime juice, 2 tbs. orange juice. Add one diced tomato with seeds removed. Add 2 chopped seeded chilies, i.e. jalapeno and ½ finely chopped seeded Scotch bonnet, (it is hot). Add ½ c. finely chopped red onion & 2 tbs. finely chopped cilantro. Stir well. Line a martini glass with a thinly sliced lettuce leaf and three thin slices of avocado standing upright around glass. Divide conch salad among the glasses and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.  Garnish with lime wedges. Serve immediately. (Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse).

I would like to continue writing from time to time along the ethnic food lines featured in the islands.  It helps us all to have a more in depth idea of life in the islands. Bon Appetit!

Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island and AP United States Power Squadron.

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