21 October 2009

Pan Fried Conch

Last Thursday was the opening day of the commercial conch season. When I left early in the morning for Bush Cay the fishermen were already hard at work collecting them. I had never seen so many boats on the water just outside of the reserve (literally just a few feet outside), all of them vying to collect the easiest and nearest conch first. We were riding in a DECR (Department of Environment and Coastal Resources) boat, so we got a close look at the activity when the officers stopped to check in on them.

Conch Fishermen

Just the day before we had collected our first few conch and were planning a meal that evening (there is no season for licensed personal consumption, only limits on size and take). "Catching" conch is a somewhat strong way of describing what you do to collect them. They don't move much and they're all over the place. You just swim down and pick them up. The ones we got were just around the anchor at one of our favorite snorkel sites at the south end of Long Cay.

The process from capture to dinner plate is somewhat involved. To remove them from their shell you have to do what is called "knocking" them. Basically, you use a hammer (or other blunt instrument) to smash a hole in the shell, down two rows of spines on the pointed end of the shell. From that hole you gain access to the single tendon that connects the animal to its shell. Snip that with a knife, and you can pull it right out. Then it must be cleaned, which is a slimy disgusting process. In the end you're left with a big chunk of meat and slime coating on your hands that is incredibly difficult to remove.

Watch this video to get an idea of how it all works.

We left a day between this step and the final preparation, cooking, and eating so the unappetizing process described above was less vivid in our minds. In the kitchen we did the final cleaning, removing the unpleasant bits and skin. Then pounded them (quite vigorously) until they were tender, placed them in an oiled pan, and seasoned them with chili powder and some other spices (I didn't see exactly what went in).

It was good to try conch that was not deep fried (it's difficult to get any food on this island that's not deep fried), but I didn't eat much. Only one bite, actually. I never intended to eat much. It's not the most appetizing food if you ask me. I don't really even like clams that much anymore. But the others around the center we're happy to help eat it. For me it was more about the process, and trying a characteristically local food. Next we're planning to catch some lobster and maybe make some conch chowder to go with it.

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