Cooking in the Islands
No Frames Frames
While Callaloo is its most
characteristic soup, the Caribbean offers many other varieties. There are bean-based
soups, like the popular Spainish black bean varieties and red bean favored in Jamaica.
Vegetable soups include the Dutch split pea, breadfruit and pumpkin with
pasta and with peanut.
Fruit-based soups include mango and banana.
And then there is that all time favorite--conch chowder.
Conch chowder is the Caribbean's version of the well known clam chowder.
Conch is actually a sea snail so the Caribbean version can be thought of as a fancy escargot
soup with an exotic, clamlike taste.
The Queen Conch
herself is a fascinating creature that most people think of as a shell. Few have seen the
conch stretched out of its shell, almost twice the length of the shell, its plaintive
eyestalks inspecting the strange world around.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that this creature's flesh is so
very tough, the world being such a cruel place for a marine delicacy.
To be edible, the conch meat must be removed from the shell, de-slimmed,
trimmed and tenderized by pounding to break down its tough inner tissue (see Conch Book). And some grind the conch as
The conch has entered our mythology to such an extent that island locals
in places have been called "conchs."
Basically, bacon (some "render" the bacon fat while others pour
it off.) or butter (sometimes making a roux) and seasonings (thyme, bay leaf and others)
are sautéed along with the "usual suspects" of soup (onion, carrots, celery and
fish or clam broth), before pieces of conch and potatoes are added, all of which is
brought to a boil and simmered. However, there are many recipes (see recipe, Norman's Key West recipe, a dish for a "working and
virile man" and 4
So how to make conch chowder?
First, tenderize the conch meat itself by pounding fiercely. Wipe with
lime juice. Prepare and flavor the fresh conch separately by marinating/ poaching.
Marinades include lime juice, white wine, clam broth, seasonings (peppercorns and a bay
leaf) as well as papaya juice. Use bite-sized rather than ground pieces.
Chose a conch chowder style that is cream sauce or tomato/vegetable based.
For a tomato/ vegetable based chowder, use bacon and sauté the tomatoes/
vegetables. Marinade the conch at least 30 minutes . Then poach for 20 minutes. Combine
with sautéed tomatoes/ vegetables and simmer an hour.
For a cream sauce chowder, marinade/poach as described above. Add
vegetables directly to the poaching liquid without sautéing. Simmer for at at least 30
minutes. Add skinned and diced potatoes in just enough time to cook and cream at the end.
Here is a conch soup
from Honduras that uses yuca (breadfruit could be substituted as well) instead of potatoes
and coconut milk instead of cream.