While you may balk at the prospect of eating what is essentially an oversized sea snail, conch has been a staple of Caribbean cuisine for centuries. Although in recent years dwindling stocks are turning it into something of a luxury item, conch is the national dish of the Bahamas, celebrated in an annual conch festival in the Turks and Caicos, and ubiquitous in Key West. When properly cooked, you won't find anything rubbery or snail-like about conch; it forms a full-flavored base for chowder, stew, fritters and salads. Extracting the meat from the shell takes special skill, but conch sold in the United States comes prepared and ready to cook.
Remove any colored slivers of orange or black conch meat. Although all parts of a gutted conch are edible, apart from the hard claw, only the white meat is typically reserved for conch recipes. The orange parts are usually processed and used in salads or fritters.
Rinse the conch meat thoroughly under cold water to remove any particles of sand or stray organ remnants.
Tenderize the conch meat by pounding it gently with a heavy mallet. Flatten the meat enough to break up its initial shape into something resembling a chicken cutlet, but stop before the conch starts to come apart.
Chop the tenderized meat into finger-sized slivers on a cutting board with a medium-size knife.
Simmer the fresh conch in a large pot of salted water for about an hour, adding aromatics such as garlic, onion and scotch bonnet pepper. Also add seasonings, such as thyme and oregano, and vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, if desired. Like squid, conch toughens quickly when first introduced to hot broth but regains its tenderness after extended simmering. Cooking it less than an hour yields rubbery meat.
Cook conch in an authentic island style by making ceviche. Place chopped conch meat in a bowl and marinate it in salt, lime juice and hot peppers. The acids in the lime juice cook the conch over a period of time.
Place the bowl in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours for greater volumes. Do not allow the conch to marinate too long, or it will turn mushy.
Place the ceviche in a bowl on ice, and serve it cold.
Dip chopped, tenderized conch into a bowl of whipped egg and milk, then toss it in a bread-crumb mixture until well coated.
Shallow fry the conch in oil for 3 to 5 minutes until golden.
Remove the conch from the frying pan, season it with lime juice and serve.
- Place the conch meat between two sheets of plastic wrap when tenderizing to minimize damage to the meat.
- Remove any foam produced during simmering with a slotted spoon to prevent it spilling over onto the stove.
- Avoid conch that is gray rather than white or pink, a possible sign that the meat is off. The meat should not smell fishy, but briny.
- Store raw conch in glass containers rather than metal, as the meat’s flavor can be tainted by metal. Chilled conch can be kept in the refrigerator for up to four or five days. Avoid any chilled conch that starts giving off a sour or unpleasant aroma.
- Pregnant women should not eat conch ceviche, but it is perfectly safe to eat conch cooked to a temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, high enough to kill bacteria.
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