I’ve always known conch as those pretty pink and peach shells that decorate my grandmother’s home in Florida. It turns out that they aren’t just good for decoration, though. In the Caribbean, conch is served up in just about any way imaginable and plays a delicious part in many meals.
On Grand Turk, I had the chance to visit a conch farm, where conch are actually raised and bred for food. They start out as itty-bitty microscopic bits that can live to be a whopping 20 years in captivity. The larger conchs are heavy and huge, with equally heavy and huge reproductive organs that aren’t so attractive considering the very raw nature of the animal.
Raw is actually one of the ways people enjoy eating conch. I haven’t had a chance to try it in that form, but I can tell you that every other tidbit of conch I’ve tossed in my mouth has been delicious.
I was first introduced to conch as a food in Honduras, where I ate conch fritters as an appetizer for dinner. As I started hopping across the Caribbean over the course of the next few months, I realized that this wasn’t anything unique. In fact, conch appears in many meals. On Grand Turk, for example, I sampled a delicious conch chowder. I also tried a different type of conch fritter; this one was less like calamari and more spicy than the one I ate in Honduras.
Upon returning home, I was flipping through a magazine about Turks and Caicos when I came upon a single page that mentioned all the ways conch is prepared on the islands. The list contains 45 items and sounds something like the Forrest Gump spiel about shrimp when read aloud.
It includes conch soft tacos, conch salad, conch wrap, conch chowder, conch pizza, conch penne, conch quesadillas and conch bruschetta.
You can order your conch steamed, smoked, jerked, rolled, spicy, raw and cracked.
It is served encrusted, with curry, wrapped in wonton skins and with sauce.
You can even order a conch martini.
I will never, ever look at my grandmother’s decorating choices the same way.
Living conch photo taken by me; conch feast photo courtesy of Tom Plant.