[Shane – Below is the article I wrote for the April issue of All At Sea – South Florida edition that is coming out soon. I hope you enjoy it]
What is the nation dish of the Bahamas? If you visit the country and can not answer that within the time it takes you to look at three different menus, they you are not trying very hard. The answer is conch (pronounced conk, as in “I will conk you on the head”). Almost everywhere you look you will find conch on the menu in one form or another and I joking say a Bahamian will go into shock without their daily dose of conch. A conch is a large mollusk found in tropical waters, so think giant sea snail.
The three most common forms of conch are conch salad, cracked conch, and conch fritters. For me personally, a fresh conch salad is second to none on a hot day. It is so fresh with all the veggies and citrus marinating the conch into tender, tasty pieces. Essentially, conch salad is a delicious type of ceviche.
Almost as good is cracked conch, which is more often than not a dinner item. Making cracked conch is quite simple. Take a conch out of its shell and clean it. Then you need to beat the ever-loving crap out of it until it is a quarter inch think or so. I joke about beating it, but this actually tenderizes the meat that is so tough to begin with it is like chewing on a flip flop. Once the conch is tenderized it is soaked in a milk mixture, battered, and deep fried. It is these last steps that give each cook their own flavors.
The last common form of conch is conch fritters, which is what you will most often find served outside the Bahamas for some reason, even though there are conchs found all over the Lesser Antilles also. A conch fritter is a hush puppy with tiny bits of conch in the mixture. Even though I have had some awesome conch fritters, I personally think these are sub-premium way to serve conch.
Conch is eaten so much, I have seen twenty-foot-high piles of shells where fisherman have processed the conch for decades. In fact, there are a few places here and there where a fisherman has taken all the shells and ended up forming their own islands. A few of them have poured some concrete, added tables & umbrellas, built a kitchen, and started a bar/restaurant on their own private island. How cool is that, to build your own island!?!?!
With so many conchs being eaten, you might be wondering how the population can stay at healthy numbers. Well between March and October, a female will produce an egg mass containing 200,000 to half a million eggs and they do this eight or so times a year. Even with this many eggs being produced there are concerns about the sustainability of the population and several places have either instituted fishing seasons for conch or are complete No Take zones (as the Exumas Land & Sea Park).
Outside of the meat a conch provides, the shells are highly decorative with a glossy pink enamel on the inside and many people collect them. They are also used to make horns by cutting off the tip and blowing on it like a trumpet. Finally, conchs also make a pearl, but they are quite rare. I have been told about one in 10,000 conchs will make a pearl.