One of the best parts about living in The Bahamas for 4 years, was all the delicious fresh seafood I got to eat. I acquired a taste for steamed conch, fried Wahoo for breakfast, ceviche any time of day, and sweet coconut bread. Fresh grilled mahi seasoned only with garlic and olive oil, and raw conch on the back deck of the boat, still salty from the ocean.
Conch (pronounced “konk”) is the national food of The Bahamas and is super versatile. Similar to calamari, conch meat is firm and white with a somewhat chewy texture. Raw and thinly sliced you might mistake it for fresh coconut. It can be eaten steamed or deep-fried, or as ceviche. There are 65 species of conch around the world, but queen conch is the most common type found and served in The Bahamas.
During my years in The Bahamas, we spent a lot of time on Grand Bahama, and I had the pleasure of having a limo driver, Miss Cordella drive me to get groceries every week between trips on the dive boat. We became great friends and she would arrive to pick me up loaded down with fried fish and steamed conch to feed the crew. I was afraid if I waited until we got back from provisioning, the crew would gobble it all up, so I’d eat my share immediately, or hide some in the back of the fridge!
In The Bahamas ‘steamed’ is what I would call stewed. It is most often served with coleslaw and white rice, or Pigeon Peas and Rice. The recipe for steamed conch varies from island to island, and from family to family, and I wish I had kept varies a lot, but is usually pretty simple. The main thing to make a great steamed conch is to get a good fresh shell fish in the first place.
As you can imagine, there a lots of different steamed conch recipes – restaurants and families will all have their own ‘secrets’ to the perfect dish, but this the recipe Miss Cordella gave me.
- 2 Fresh conch
- 1 Lemon
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 2 Fresh, ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped
- 1 Medium bell pepper, chopped
- 2 sticks of celery, chopped
- 1 Teaspoon thyme
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- Salt and black pepper
- Tenderize (beat beat beat) fresh or frozen conch by pounding it with a meat mallet or rolling pin.
- Boil the conch for 10 minutes in just enough water to cover and butter, skimming off foam. (Save the conch stock for seafood chowder or fish soup.)
- Saute the onions in oil, then add, tomatoes, bell pepper, celery, and thyme.
Add a little water and simmer these ingredients together gently until they reduce into a thick sauce
- Add the conch to the sauce and simmer a little longer - 5-10 minutes will do just fine. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
- Serve hot with rice and coleslaw.
Conch is not widely available outside of the Caribbean and South East states. You can substitute squid, shrimp or lobster, but skip the tenderizing and boiling stages.