Ever wonder what lives inside those beautiful conch shells that decorate the waters of the Caribbean? Growing up in Belize, conch soup, conch ceviche, conch fritters, conch steak, and curry conch were a staple in my household. While my craving for conch has not diminished, it is quite hard to find in the US and relatively expensive when you find it. Don't let this be a detterent. I encourage you to try it when you get a chance. It is well worth the money.
Conch, pronounced konk, is known as the queen of the Caribbean who has no bones but sports a beautiful shell. It is one of a number of different species of medium-sized to large saltwater molluscs that have intricately designed, spirally constructed shells. They are abundantly found in the Indian and Pacific oceans. However, six species live in the greater Caribbean region, including the Queen Conch. They live on sandy bottoms among beds of sea grass in tropical warm waters.
When Columbus “discovered” the islands in 1492, he wrote of finding conch shells “as big as the head of a calf” off the coast of Cuba. He found them to be a good and hearty source of protein. I remember when I was child, we would spend our holiday on a small island off the coast of Belize. When we came across conch, we knew we had to have it. A hole was made at the top of the spiralled shell. This would release the tension and pressure inside the shell. Shortly after, the long and very slender animal would slip out of the shell. We were all given a chance to clean our prize which consisted mainly of pulling the transparent outer entrails and discarding that in the sea. Then, you would remove any brown outer covering on the meat. This then exposed a beautiful white fleshy chunk of meat that is best enjoyed then and there raw with a squeeze of lime. The saltiness from the water would add enough seasoning to the already perfect meat.
If you are to cook conch at home, you will definately need to tenderize the meat by pounding it or by grinding it in the food processor, depending on the recipe of choice. Even though it has no bones, without tenderizing the meat, you may very well think that it is purely bone. Conch can be prepared many different ways. I will provide you with 1 of my favorite recipes.
Jam's Conch Ceviche Belizean Style!
1/2 lb. Cleaned conch meat
1/4 c Olive juice
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1/2 Habanero pepper (seeds and all)
2 large Tomatos
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Clean conch meat by removing all brown outer coverings. Cut the meat into small chunks. Dice carrot, cucumber, onion, cilantro, tomatoes and Habanero pepper (remove seeds if you like it hot, keep seeds if you want it extra extra hot, or eliminate if you don't like the heat). Pour boiling water over diced conch and let sit for 3-4 minutes. In the meantime, squeeze lemons or limes into a bowl. Add all vegetables. Drain conch, and add to the vegetable, citrus mixture. Add olive juice, salt and pepper to taste. Let this marinate in the fridge at least 1 hour before serving. Serve cold with beer and corn tortilla chips.
My mom makes the most amazing conch soup and curry conch ever! I will provide you with this recipe when I am able to convince her to share her secrets. :)
Based on 3.5 oz serving
Conch is an excellent source of protein. 3 1/2 oz. of raw conch yields 137 calories (pretty amazing)! Sodium content of conch hovers around 206 mg per 3 1/2 oz. Cholesterol is relatively low being 65mg cholesterol compared to other shellfish.
Conch is low in fat!
Conch is a good source of B vitamins but it is especially rich in folate. The levels of the minerals magnesium and selenium are also appreciable in conch.