The Bahamas are one of the only places in the world where fresh seafood is cheaper than fruits and veggies. Even in Nassau, one of the most touristy, expensive islands of the Bahamas you can buy a conch, caught and cleaned for $2-3. Go to the grocery store and you’ll find a head of lettuce for $5, if you’re extremely lucky.
But conch are everywhere in the Bahamas. They litter the ocean floor. Why you can dive down and pick one up almost anywhere. It’s not like they run fast. Unfortunately once you’ve caught one then the hard part begins. Getting them out of their rock-hard shells is all but impossible if you don’t know the trick. Personally I would recommend either getting a local to actually give you a tutorial on how to get a conch out of its shell and clean it.
Locals have told us, we have researched it on the internet, and still the process of removing the little bastards from their home takes strength of will, arm, and whatever you are trying to make the holes with better have a diamond tip or be a laser.
In other words it really is better to buy your conch and get someone to clean them. It is worth the $2-3. But once you get the meat back to your galley what do you do with it? If you don’t cook it right the consistency is somewhat akin to that of boot leather. Believe me, years ago, before I knew there was a right and wrong way to cook conch I ended up with an inedible lump of muscle that could have doubled as a dog toy.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to cook conch that make the meat delectable. The meat is not melt-in-the-mouth tender, more akin to squid; when cooked well conch is a delicious, firm, and flavorful meat.
1. Beat the conch into submission: Take every aggression you didn’t know you had out on the poor mollusk until you have broken every fiber of its being and it is a thin sheet of tender flesh.
It really isn’t as violent as it sounds, but you do need to hit the meat until it becomes a thin sheet. This is the most common method for tenderizing conch, or at least the one I had heard about the most before trying to tame the conch myself. However, it is far from my favorite. It probably isn’t the best thing for a galley to be beating something to bits in it. I prefer gentler means. I don’t even think we have the proper conch pounding materials aboard. On top of that it takes time and effort.
2. Crosshatch it like squid: In many Thai restaurants squid is often cut in a pretty crosshatched pattern the little prickled tubes are lovely in stir-fry, soup, or any meal. This method works to tenderize conch as well. Simply score the conch in a series of vertical lines each about 3 mm apart cutting about halfway into the flesh, then cut a series of horizontal scores. The pattern is quite pretty and the resulting meat is tender and tasty.
3. Slice very thinly: Shaving off little slivers of the conch works well to keep the meat tender. The down side to this is that it can be time consuming to cut thin enough slices. The up side is that it’s freaking delicious.
4. Cook extremely quickly: Just like squid, the key is to cook conch extremely quickly or extremely slowly. Throw it in a pan and stir-fry it for 30 seconds to a minute but no longer than that.
When it is cooked the flesh will become opaque. If you are cooking it like this and using it in something else I suggest cooking it separately and setting it aside and adding it to the stir-fry or dish just before serving.
5. Cook for 2+ hours: If you really don’t care about wasting time and propane then you can boil the conch for 2+ hours. This breaks down the rubbery fibers and makes the conch delightful and tender. I haven’t actually tried this method myself (I use enough propane on the boat as is) but it certainly works.
6. Pressure cook: Pressure cooking is hands down my favorite method for tenderizing conch. Instead of boiling the meat for 2 hours, you can cook it for 20 minutes in a pressure cooker. Not only do you get delicious, tender conch, but you get some of the most delicious soup stock you have ever tasted. You can use the grey bits as well as the pink and pale as well. Cut the conch into bite-sized bits and put it in the pressure cooker. Pour in a mixture of ½ sea water and ½ fresh water until there is about ½” of liquid above the conch and cook for 20 minutes.
7. Eat Raw: Conch sashimi or conch salad are both delicious ways to eat conch raw, and I am sure that conch ceviche is delicious as well. With all these preparation methods conch should be cut into thin slices. Even if you are hesitant to eat raw conch it is certainly worth trying at least once.