St. Kitts: Discovering Conch
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St. Kitts: Discovering Conch

We spent our spring break getaway week in St. Kitts in the Caribbean this year.  Having been to most of the major Mexican vacation spots over the years, it was time to switch things up a bit and explore the Caribbean, our future cruising grounds for our Hatteras.  Neither of us has been to St. Kitts so it seemed like a great choice for this year's getaway.
 
St Kitts and Nevis are two sister islands that neighbor Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago. The islands gained their independence from Britain fairly recently, in 1983. From a culinary point of view, the islands are influences by both Britain and West Indian cuisines, especial Trinidad. As volcanic islands, they have a rich soil that the islanders treasure to provide them a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.  Fish and seafood also make a regular appearance on plates of the local establishments with spiny lobster and conch playing a predominant role.
 
Conch Fritters
Our first full day in St. Kitts was spent just relaxing on the gorgeous beach at the resort and decompressing a bit from day to day life.  That night we had walked to a local beach bar for dinner and I tried the local classic dish conch fritters.  It was like a cornmeal pancake with onions and conch. It was served with lettuce and tomatoes on the side with a creamy cucumber sauce. It was quite delicious. Not heavy at all.  Later in the week I had the fritters at the restaurant on the resort (see picture below) and they were prepared hushpuppy-style.  I preferred the lighter, pancake style fritter myself.
 
Conch
So your saying, wait a minute, what the heck is conch anyway?  Conch (pronounced "konk") is a snail that is common in the warm waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean from Florida south and throughout the Caribbean islands.   You may be more familiar with it large pink shell that can be up to 1 foot in length.  Its meat is mild and sweet and tastes similar to clam.  However, as the meat comes from the snail's foot muscle, it is quite tough.  It must be tenderized by either pounded and/or marinating in lime juice before cooking.  It is often cut into very small pieces prior to using in recipes.
 
Conch Fritters at the Marriott St. Kitts
I haven't been able to track down a recipe that mirrors what I had on the beach that day but I think one from the Nevis website (http://nevis1.com/conch-fritters-recipe.html) comes pretty close with its ingredients.  However, I plan to experiment with making this in the pancake-style pictured above. 
 
 
 
 
 
________________
 
Conch Fritters
 
Ingredients: 
1 pound conch meat
1/2 large onion
2 stalks celery
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
Salt to taste
1 egg
1/3 cup self rising cornmeal
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
 
Cooking Method:
 
Put conch through food grinder or food processor.  Process with onion, celery, red and green pepper and mix with conch, adding salt and egg.  Mix well.  Mix together cornmeal, flour and baking powder.  Add conch mixture.  Mixture should be thick.  Add buttermilk and hot sauce.  Drop by heaping tablespoon into deep oil until light brown. Drain.  Serve with mayonnaise and lime juice.
______________
 
Now, conch can be a little bit hard to find at the Beach.  However, I think the concept would work well with minced shrimp, clams, other local crustacean or mollusk.  I am always looking for new and different appetizers and this one is definitely on my list to experiment with.
 
Fritters are not the only use for conch.  It is frequently used in salads and chowders in the Keys and the Caribbean.  It can also be used in entrée like the conch curry I had on the last night of our vacation in St. Kitts.  We went to Mr. X's Shiggidy Shack (http://www.mrxshiggidyshack.com) which is located on "The Strip" in St. Kitts. (The Strip is just a short walk or cab ride from the Marriott in Frigate Bay and is also where you can find the local nightlife on the island.   However, the nightlife on the island is pretty calm in comparison to other islands and places like Cancun, Mexico.)
 
It was a beautiful night to sit outside at this casual beach bar and enjoy the sunset over the water and listen to local music.  As I perused the menu, I debated between the spiny lobster and the conch curry.  I concluded that spiny lobster I can likely have another time but sampling another local conch dish such as the curry may not happen for some time.   
 
The conch curry was served with a side of local vegetables. I will be the first to admit that cabbage does not often grace my table in a cooked form.  However the cabbage was not bitter or flavorless but sweet and tender and the squash melted in your mouth with sweet and nutty flavor.  Fresh and local.  It is a way of life more out of necessity on the islands than out of intention but the result is the same: delicious.  My chef instructor in one of my culinary foundation courses said more than once than vegetable sides are overlooked and deserve more attention on the plate.  The Shiggidy Shack got my attention, for sure.  
 
The conch curry was simple but complex.  The conch was sliced thin and was swimming in the curry. Hints of cinnamon and cumin added depth while chilies added a spicy undertone.  Green peppers that were sauté with the conch complemented the curry blend.  It was a perfect ending to an island adventure for a foodie!!
 
Earlier in the week, I had purchased my souvenir local cookbook, the St. Kitts International Women's Association Cookbook.  As I was "reading" it on the plane ride back to the States, I was excited to find a recipe for Creole Conch Stew which looked very similar to the Conch Curry I had the night before. 
 
It was simply conch, peppers, onions, olive oil, curry powder, garlic, hot pepper, tomato paste, thyme and parsley.  The trick is now to figure out what type of curry blend they use locally!! Not necessarily and easy task with all the different types of curries out there, but I am up to the challenge...
 
Stay tuned for the next edition of my St. Kitts blog series on Caribbean spices....

8 Comments to St. Kitts: Discovering Conch:

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electronic foot massager on Sunday, May 19, 2013 4:29 PM
Thanks , I've recently been searching for info about this topic for ages and yours is the greatest I've came upon till now. However, what about the bottom line? Are you sure concerning the supply?
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replica rolex on Tuesday, October 08, 2013 9:37 PM
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Chef Jen on Thursday, May 23, 2013 10:57 AM
Thanks for your question on supply. There is definitely a lot of discussion and concern about supply and sustainability but I can't say that I have enough local knowledge to determine fact from fiction. As with all seafood I do believe we need to respect the supply and demand curves and I would not suggest making it a regular item on a menu at home or even in a restaurant out of its native area.
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