Have you tried conch? I don’t mean conch fritters….. those little fried balls of who-knows-what dipped in catsup. I mean REAL conch, Queen Conch, strombus gigas, straight from the ocean, maybe served ceviche style raw with lime, maybe cracked battered and fried. Well, I have had the honor of eating the best conch in the entire world on Cat Island.
On our first day in New Bight, we stopped by Duke’s Conch Shack for some cold beverages, and spent a couple of hours shooting the breeze with Duke (Or “Dukie” as the local ladies call him, although I never felt quite close enough to be on nick-name basis). Duke’s place was a huge step up from the takeaway shacks surrounding it. He explained how he made the coconut palm thatched roof by hand; what kind of wood to use for the supports and how to soak it in salt water to keep out the bugs. He explained that this type of roof is perfect, because every time a storm destroys the restaurant, he walks out into the woods and gets new building material for free. He explained that he found all of the sailing-themed decorations and light shades washed up on Ocean Beach, “you can find anything in the world over there!” And he told us the Whitty K sign is a piece of the hull of one of the champion Bahamian racing sloops. Oh! And he acted out the story of when the shark bit him on the butt and he had to get 50 stitches. After we were buddies, Duke even gave us a ride a couple of miles up the road to the best grocery store in the Bahamas.
Amid all the chatting and story telling, Duke found time to whip up the most amazing conch salad ever; ocean fresh conch “cooked” in lime and orange juice, mixed with tomato, onion, and hot peppers. I protected my treasured paper bowl in a plastic bag, on the bumpy dinghy ride back to the boat and had a divine dinner served with tortilla chips and rum punch.
Nice photo bomb, Laura!
The next day, we returned to Dukes’s after our island tour adventure, for cracked conch. Since Capt. Mike and I need to stick to a gluten-free diet, we ordinarily can’t partake of this breaded and fried delicacy. But …. after hanging with Duke all day yesterday, he told us that if we brought our own gluten-free flour, he would use it to make cracked conch just for us!
We placed an order for three portions for us and our friends. Duke said, “Let me go get the conch from the freezer”, and walked across the dirt road to the beach. Sensing something awesome, I trailed along behind him. Duke crossed the beach, waded into the choppy ocean waves, took his shirt off, and dove under water. One by one, he pulled conch shells out from the water, and threw them onto the sand. Three… six … nine … twelve. Wow! That’s a lot of conch for three portions! By the time Duke returned to the beach, the crews of Sanitas, Z-Raye, and Orion were all on the beach watching. Duke walked us through the process of cleaning and prepping conch.
First, use a hammer to pound a hole in the shell to release the suction so you can pull the conch from its home. Rinse the conch several times to clear the sand. Remove the conch “pistol”. Depending on who you ask, this is either the semen sack, which has special sexual-strength-inducing powers, or simply part of the digestive system. Either way, it’s pretty badass to swallow it hole, as Laura and I did, lol.
I like all the puzzled faces in this picture…
Next, you need the remove the operculum… a shell like covering that assists in locomotion, aka: a thick skin covering the conch. Cut it off with a BIG knife. Also cut off any dark of discolored pieces. Rinse a few more times.
Once you have coaxed the critters out of their shells, and removed all the nasty bits, the next step is to pound the heck out of it. FYI, this is why I don’t clean conch myself on my boat. (Picture slimy conch bits all over the walls)
After all of this extremely labor intensive cleaning and prepping (not to mention actually catching the darn things!) comes the civilized part or dipping the strips of tenderized conch in egg, cream, and flour and then frying. Add salt, French fries, and hot sauce (and a rum punch) and you have a meal fit for a queen…. conch (see what I did there?)