Shortly after we tied up in West End a local fisherman came to our boat selling lobster tails and conch. It was pouring rain and the wind was blowing 20 knots, but he was cheery as could be. “Just caught them today!” he said. Drew couldn’t resist, so we brought out some ziploc bags and he filled them up with his catch for a grand total of $20.
Conch (pronounced “konk”) is a local specialty here. You probably know what the shell looks like; inside it lives a large sea snail whose meat is fairly neutral-flavored so it can be prepared in lots of ways. The trick is getting the snail out. We have one of Mimi’s old cookbooks aboard, “The Cruising Chef” by Michael Greenwald, which describes how to extract a conch from its shell in hilarious/lurid detail. (Step one involves vise grips.) Sounds like a challenge, so we were happy to have pre-shelled and pre-cleaned conch.
They weren’t quite ready to cook yet, though. The flesh is rather tough so you have to pound it mercilessly with a meat tenderizer until it’s flattened and full of holes, like swiss cheese. We do not have a meat tenderizer on board. What we do have, though, is a boat deck covered with a non-skid material called Treadmaster. It’s a grid of raised diamonds made of tough rubber, with nicely square edges. So I grabbed a hammer, put the conch in a few layers of plastic bags, and got to it. The kids soon joined me and had a great time bashing away. It took a good fifteen minutes but in the end we had a bag filled with lacy white meat that seemed like it might be tender enough to cook.
It was a LOT of conch, so we ended up making two dishes. First was conch salad, which is sort of a cross between gazpacho and ceviche. That had to rest overnight before it would be ready to eat, so with the remainder we made conch fritters, dipped in mayonnaise with sri racha. Heavenly. If ever you find yourself with conch to cook, here’s the recipe:
1 cup beer
1 tsp cooking oil
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup or more tenderized and chopped conch
Mix all the wet ingredients together, then slowly stir in the flour and salt until smooth. Let stand for 2 to 3 hours. (The yeast in the beer helps lighten the batter.) Heat an inch or so of oil in a wide pan. Stir the conch into the batter, then deep fry in spoonfuls until golden brown. Serve with some kind of dipping sauce if desired, or just sprinkle with more salt.