Conch chowder is to Key West what cioppino is to San Francisco.
This pretty mollusk was so ubiquitous, so intertwined with
the folklore and diet of Key Westers, that the people who
were born and raised here became known as Conchs (Konks) back
in the late 1800s. I can think of no other place where the
populace has taken the name of a gastropod as a nickname for
themselves, but we have and we're proud of it.
meat has a rich, exotic clamlike taste and can be used in
various ways. It is made into salads, fritters, and chowders.
As for chowders, there are those devotees who favor a creamy
version, and I'm beginning to hear of those who even include
such refinements as hazelnuts! But my recipe is for those
in the tomato-fanciers camp. And this is a dish made for people
who like to be within walking distance of a beach. I like
to think that suitable condiments are nothing more than a
hot splash of Tobasco and the salty smell of the sea.
Yield: 12 servings
pound slab bacon, rind removed and diced
cup olive oil
jalapeño peppers, seeds and stems removed, diced
large Spanish onion, peeled and diced medium
bunch celery, cleaned and diced medium
carrots, peeled and diced medium
green pepper, seeds and stem removed, diced medium
yellow pepper, seeds and stems removed, diced medium
banana peppers, seeds and stems removed, diced medium
Tablespoon crushed red pepper
small, new potatoes, peeled, diced medium, and reserved
quart peeled plum tomatoes, thoroughly crushed
quart tomato purée
bunch each of fresh thyme, oregano, marjoram, and basil,
tied in cheesecloth.
1/4 quarts fish stock
2/3 quarts bottled clam juice
1/2 pounds cleaned and ground conch meat (see Note below)
sacue to taste
a very large soup pot or dutch oven, render bacon fat with
olive oil. When fat is rendered, add jalapeños, followed
by all the vegetables up to but not including the potatoes.
Sautébriskly. Add crushed red pepper. Add potatoes,
then the tomatoes and tomato puré, being sure the plum
tomatoes are well crushed. Reduce heat and add the bay leaves.
Add the bouquet of herbs.
a separate large pot, bring fish stock and clam juice to a
boil and whisk in conch meat. Allow to boil once and quickly
strain the clam and fish stock into the simmering soup, reserving
conch meat for later. When potatoes are tender, whisk in reserved
conch meat. Add Tabasco to taste, boil once, then serve, or
chill for later use.
Conch meat is almost always frozen. Try to buy Grade A
conch and be sure to check for any "freezer burn". Do not
buy the conch if you see ice crystals on the meat. Conch meat
can be extremely tough, even if you dice it very small, so
it needs to go through the medium-fine plate of a grinder.
Also cut away any orange flaplike meat if that has not already
Copyright © 1996 by Norman Van Aken