Conch seems like a creature destined to go the way of the plains buffalo or the dodo bird. It's edible, and really easy to hunt. Indeed there is some concern about declining conch populations from overfishing. Locals talk about how years ago anyone feeling a bit hungry could just wade out into the water with a knife and a hammer and get there fill. It's not quite that easy anymore but my casual observations suggest that there are still quite a few about here.
I think I understand why. Making a meal out of a conch is not quite as easy as picking an apple from a tree. The picking part is deceptively simple...Emmett and I are having a nice snorkel. I see a conch shell sitting on the bottom, swim down and pick it up. What could be easier?
The challenge begins when you try to get the thing out of its shell. It knows what you're up to and retreats back deep within its glossy pink cave of a shell. No amount of yanking on his foot will entice him out. And that shell! It is pretty as it is hard and can withstand prolonged bludgeoning with any number of hard objects. Believe me, I've tried. The secret, it seems, to cracking a conch is a sort of sneak attack from the rear:
If you look at the whorl of the shell and count in about two spirals from the outer rim or lip of the shell, then apply a few well placed raps with a chisel, screwdriver, or prospector's hammer in just the right spot, it turns out that you'll find the shell is indeed just thin enough there for you to make a small hole. Then one can pass a thin knife through that hole where the recalcitrant little snail is holding on for dear life. One blind cut down that hole and the conch loses his deep, secret anchor and slides right out.
But the battle is still not over, The lump of meat you have now harvested is covered with a tough, brown skin that needs to be peeled away. And as you start to peel, the skin releases a sticky, stringy slime in one final dying attempt to get you to give up and go microwave a hot dog instead.
Peel away that skin and you are left with 2 or 3 ounces of what feels like rubber tire. It would have the same consistency in your mouth if you didn't first tenderize it. This is accomplished by pounding the meat furiously with whatever heavy, hard object you undoubtedly still have within arms reach. This step is strangely satisfying after the conch putting you through the previous steps above. Once it is pounded down to about half its original thickness, it is ready for whatever else you may have in store for it in the kitchen.
Conch fritters appear as a menu item everywhere here. Fritters allow you to stretch your hard won conch supply until only a homeopathic portion remains. They taste like the fried batter that they are and nothing like conch meat. Conch makes a nice ceviche if you're into that sort of thing. Just chop it up, marinate it in some lime juice and eat cold. What could be simpler or more pure than that!
I have a hard time getting Emmett or Kathleen to eat any seafood that hasn't first been cooked, though. You'd think in the tropics they'd make an exception. So we've been enjoying another traditional Bahamian dish that still preserves the sweet flavor of the conch:
3 conchs, prepared as above, marinate in lime juice seasoned with 1 Tbsp sweet chili sauce, or a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce. Use enough lime juice to cover meat. Marinate for at least an hour. Cut congh into bite size pieces. Roll each piece in flour, then dip in beaten egg, then roll in bread crumbs. Deep fry in vegetable oil until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel and serve.