Catch and Serve Conch Salad 101

I just moved back to NYC from my birthplace, the Turks and Caicos Islands—also known as land of conch (pronounced conk/ Turks and Caicos is the only place in the world to have a conch farm)—and today I am craving conch salad so much that I can taste the tiny chunks of barely-dead, citrus-kissed seafood still salty from the ocean marinating in my saliva.

It’s so weird how quickly your reality changes. Just a week and a half ago, I was sitting at Da Conch Shack with my friends, feet buried in the sand munching on conch salad, conch fritters and fried plantain and sipping homemade rum punch. And now I don’t know when I’ll taste TCI’s “chicken of the sea” again. And while I’m not a huge shellfish eater, I do wish I had eaten more conch while at home. I like my conch fresh from the sea (although some may disagree with me. There is an old TCI song that says, “The old conch is sweeter than the fresh conch/Especially when you put it in peas and rice/The old conch will make you feel so nice”) and am therefore hesitant to order it from anywhere in North America (expect maybe for the Florida Keys). So, I’ve settle for rehashing the conch salad experience for you folks.

For those who don’t know, conch is a type of mollusk that grows it’s own super hard shell. The front of the conch shell spirals to a point and the tail end of the shell curves around into an opening for the actual conch to live in. The underside (also the opening ) of the shell is bright coral-pink that’s as smooth as a pearl from constant rubbing along the ocean floor. The actual conch is one big fleshy mass with a brown (and peachy pink in some areas), rubbery layer of skin that covers its pearly-white meat. Conch meat has a smooth, cartilage-ey texture that has a slightly bitter aftertaste which becomes more prominent when fried. The conch is equipped with one mother of a claw that drags it and it’s home from place to place—kind of like a house on wheels—but conchs don’t like to move around a lot. The conch trailer park is a shallow-ish grassy patch of the sea and everyone decorates their trailer with algae, so they can hide out from intruders (like marine turtles, certain carbs, spiny lobster and in this case hungry humans).

To make a conch salad you must first catch the suckers—all you need are your two hand and a good pair of goggles. All you need to do is dip your head into the water, spot a conch shell, dive down, pick that baby up and hold it upside down (very important). If you’re a little squeamish, it might take you a few tries before you successfully pick up your first live conch. The shell will be slimy, due to the algae living on it, but don’t give up! Once you grab you’re first one, you’re instantly a pro.

The next step is getting the conch out of its shell ( I have never participated in this or the other steps that follow—aside from eating). To do this, take a mallet, or a hammer and knock a hole in the top of conch shell and then shove a knife or a stick in your hole and coax the conch out of it’s home (this is starting to read more like an episode of the Soprano’s and less like Conch Salad 101). Once you get the conch out far enough you can drag it out by It’s claw (I know! Kinda creepy. Which is why I’ve never done it).

Then it’s time to get to work, peel that rubbery layer of skin off, take out the mojo (a thin clear tube-like gland that is rumored to be responsible for conch’s ability to spike your sex drive), cut off homie’s reproductive organs and you’re in business.

Once you’re left with the plain white conch meat, you’re 70 % done. Cut the conch meat into bite size morsels chop up some red and green sweet peppers and onion and mince some scotch-bonnet-pepper (similar to habanero/ pepper is optional) and mix the veggies with your conch. Then add salt to taste, squeeze at least a whole lime on that sucker and about 1/2 an orange (The orange is also optional. It gives the salad a sweeter taste).

This last step is my favorite—eating!!! I find that conch salad goes best with plantain chips, cassava (yucca) chips or yellow corn tortilla chips and an ice-cold light beer with a salted lime. Mmmmm. I can hear the sound of salt water lazily flopping itself against the shore, the squeak of seagulls circling around your fresh-caught conch and the crack of the hammer meeting the conch shell…

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