Whether you pronounce it “konk” or “conch”, this oceanic delight is a treasured staple throughout Bahamian cuisine — often prepared in a variety of ways using various methods. The large sea snail is a delicacy, most notably known to be eaten raw in salads or cooked in fritters and chowders. Its taste and texture resembles that of calamari, especially when fried.
Nonetheless, one such way that happens to be my favorite is conch chowder. A slow simmered tomato-based soup, with a medley of root vegetables, aromatics and tenderized conch.
From "New England Clam" to "Lobster Corn", chowders are rich, hearty soups usually split into two categories — cream-based and tomato-based. Though there are many variations, they are typically made with some form of seafood, accompanied by potatoes, carrots and fresh herbs.
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CONCH CHOWDER 101
Conch: As explained above, conch is a staple in the realm of Bahamian cuisine and is often at the core of many native dishes. Naturally, conch has a tough almost chewy texture, which presents a need for it to be tenderized when being cooked. Tenderizing or "beating" the conch is an essential step when seeking a tender, "melt in your mouth" piece of conch. Incorporating the "boiling method" further continues the tenderizing process, it also produces a stock which will add even more flavor to our chowder.
Vegetables: Though the root vegetables you choose to incorporate are all a matter of choice, the most common to be found in chowders are carrots and potatoes. As these vegetables begin to tenderize, they not only add body to the soup but will aid in the thickening process.
Thickening: When cooking a chowder, it is customary that the finished product is thick, smooth and luscious. This consistency is partly attributed by the flour added at the beginning. Adding the flour early in the recipe allots time for it to be "cooked out", avoiding a "floury" aftertaste.
Aromatics: For this recipe, we utilized a combination of aromatics including: onions, celery, garlic and fresh thyme. A good soup begins with a flavorful base, and a flavorful base brings depth. The key is to cook and season each layer thoroughly, rather than waiting until the end.
How to Make:
Bahamian Conch Chowder
Yield: 4-5 servings
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
2 quarts of water (8 cups)
2lbs of conch (roughly 4-5 conchs depending on the size) *tenderized
2 tsp of salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onions *diced
3 stalks celery *diced
4 sprigs of thyme *stems removed
2 cloves garlic *minced
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp flour
2 carrots *diced
5 potatoes *diced
1/2 habanero pepper (more or less depending on heat preference)
salt to taste
If you are unable to purchase pre-tenderized conch, here's how to "beat" it:
Place a towel onto the counter, then a cutting board on top. It's best to have a sturdy surface when beating your conch.
Place conchs (about 2 at time) into a plastic bag and begin hitting forcefully (this is the perfect time to relieve any frustration).
Using a "mallet" or "conch beater" (as we say in The Bahamas), beat conch until it is to flattened and thin. Continue until all of your conchs are tenderized then head into the recipe.
In a sauce-pot over high heat, bring water and conch to a boil. Season with salt and cook for 10-15 minutes. Once complete, drain conch, reserve the liquid and set aside.
In a large pot over medium high heat, add olive oil. Stir in onion, celery, thyme and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes until fragrant and translucent. Season with a sprinkle of salt and ground allspice.
Add tomato paste, cook until the color beings to deepen and caramelize. About 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
Sprinkle flour over the aromatics and stir until fully coated. Continue cooking for 2 minutes.
Pour reserved stock in the pot and bring to a boil. Stir in carrots, potatoes, pepper and conch.
Turn heat down to medium and cook for about 20 minutes or until root vegetables are tender. Season to taste.
*If you find that the chowder is much thicker than you would prefer, add 1/4 of water at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. Season as necessary.