What do you do when you stumble upon an entire coastline covered in conch? While you’re left wondering what conch is, I’ll have already gotten myself a bucket, picked up as much as I can, brought it all back to my kitchen and made myself some damn tasty conch sushi.
Conch sushi is a very rare type of sushi; you may not have heard of it, as conch itself isn’t very popular compared to the other seafood. Though common along beaches, conchs lie in depths ever so slightly out of reach. Only during the winter will you find conch pushed up against the shore, most likely during very low tide.
Usually only a moderate number of conchs appear each winter, but there are some winters where beaches become absolutely littered with them.
Conch sushi is something sushi lovers would probably like to try out, as it has all the perks of other sushi, and it is also very easy to prepare. Though it has a chewy quality that differentiates it from other types of sushi, it is still quite tasty, especially when wasabi paste is added to it. If you like Tako wasabi, you are absolutely going to love this sushi.
What exactly is conch?
For a true understanding of conch sushi, let’s first find out what conch itself is. Conch, pronounced “konk”, is the flesh obtained from a medium to large sea snail. Certain large snails often bear common names specific to them. Conch also applies to any large snail with a very large spike and conspicuous siphonal canal.
This seafood can be found in places like the Caribbean, Florida Keys, Bermuda and the Bahamas. The queen conch is a native of the Bahamas, and it’s probably the most valued variation of conch. So various are its uses there that some even cast it back out in the sea to use it as a special kind of bait!
It can be eaten raw or cooked. Let me tell you, it’s delicious either way. However, cooking conch might take some work. It’s a lump of tough meat to start with, and nobody enjoys eating tough meat.
So, it needs to be beaten before eaten.
Conch meat is eaten raw in salads or sushi as all parts of the meat are edible. Cooks also like to feature it in chowders, burgers and gumbos. The Bahamians especially like it in fritters and soups, while the Jamaicans prefer stews and soups.
In countries like Grenada and Haiti, locals put it in curries and very spicy soups. It is commonly known as lambi in these places. In countries like Panama and Puerto Rico, it is served as ceviche which consists of marinating raw conch in lime juice and other ingredients like garlic, olive oil, pepper and onions.
The variations just keep on coming: in Japan and other Asian countries, they top sushi with it in thin slices in addition to steaming or stir-frying. It is also pretty nice when eaten as part of conch sashimi. Conch is quite popular in Italy, where they like to call it scungilli and put it in salads and pasta sauces.
80% of queen conch meat consumed in the United States is imported. The Florida Keys used to be the main source of queen conch meat, but ever since it became scarce, any form of harvesting in Florida waters has been banned.
What does conch taste like?
The best way to describe it is that it’s similar to crab with shades of salmon. On its own, it’s quite salty and bears a rubbery texture, so everything boils down to how the conch is prepared. Although conch has a weird and unique flavor, it still tastes of the sea just like every other shellfish. Some claim that the flavor is similar to clams minus the “fishiness”.
It can be eaten raw in the form of sushi, salad or conch sashimi. When used in combination with vegetables in the form of salad or any vinaigrette, it is usually a match made in heaven. Sushi rice and conch dipped in wasabi and soy sauce is also very delicious.
Annual conch festival
The Turks and Caicos celebrate their annual conch festival sometime in November (the specific day changes with each year) in Blue Hills. It’s exactly the kind of holiday for all the adventurous foodies out there!
On this day, chefs from different local restaurants come together and compete to make the best and tastiest conch dishes like conch sushi, salads, etc. The dishes are then sampled, tasted and judged by international chefs. Other competitions, events and music performances take place there, as well.
Preparing conch for cooking
If you’re thinking of preparing some yourself, here’s some things to know. You are most likely to get your conch from places where it has already been cleaned, but take note of the following before you buy:
- Ensure the conch is whitish although some might be pink or orange
- Ensure it is not grey
- Also make sure the conch you are buying does not have any form of fishy smell
To prepare conch for cooking, you will need to remove the meat from the shell (that’s if you have collected the conch yourself). If you are finding it difficult to remove the meat from the shell, simply chisel out the horn of the shell and cut the connecting muscle to release the meat. Then it should be easy to remove the meat.
Once this is done, wash the shell several times to remove all sand; also make sure to remove the digestive gland from the meat, as only the muscle is needed. Remove the operculum (bones found in the face for facial support) from the conch; you can do this by cutting it off with a knife or pulling it off with your finger.
Soak the conchs in salty water or vinegar for a couple of hours — that is if they are not already pre-cooked. Carefully cut off any dark spot on the meat. Unless you are using the conch for sushi where you have to slice it into thin pieces, you may have to tenderize the conch because the meat is usually very tough.
There are three ways to tenderize the conch
For the first method, tenderize by pounding the meat. You can do this using a mallet or a meat tenderizer which is the best tool for this, or you can wrap a hammer in plastic wrap and beat it until it is as smooth as you want. Don’t overdo it, though, as the meat might fall apart.
The second method involves boiling the meat. To do this, put it in a big pot with salted water to simmer for about an hour. Then add ingredients like onions, garlic, scotch bonnet peppers, oregano and thyme. The conch gets stiffer as it touches the hot water but soon begins to soften as it boils. This method is perfect for roast conch.
For the third and final method, tenderizing can occur when cooking conch over a long period of time, like in a soup. Just make sure all pieces of the meat are uniform and you’re good to go.
What is conch sushi?
Now that we know all there is to know about conch, it’s time to discover the delights of conch sushi. The name might be unfamiliar to you; it’s true, people don’t often talk about conch sushi. But, rest assured, it’s a regular type of sushi and certainly nothing to be afraid of.
Conch sushi is a type of sushi that is basically sushi rice wrapped around with nori topped with a queen or horse conch and wasabi. All parts of the conch are edible, but most people find just the white meat appetizing. Conch can be consumed raw or cooked, and both varieties are equally suitable for making sushi.
Conch sushi recipe
This recipe is quite easy to prepare and doesn’t take much time. It’s also not as fancy as other types of sushi. If you are craving a quick sushi snack, give this a try! To prepare, you will need the following ingredients:
- 2 pieces of horse or queen conch
- ½ sheet of nori
- 5 tbsp of sushi rice (prepared)
- Pickled ginger
- Wasabi to taste
- Slice conch into two thin pieces approximately 3-4 inches long and 1 inch wide across the grain. Ensure you do this with a very sharp knife.
- Next up, dip your fingertips into the already prepared wasabi paste and smear on both sides of sliced conch.
- Wash the wasabi paste from your fingers with water, scoop a quantity of the already prepared sushi rice and spread the rice on your palm such that it can accommodate the conch in a rectangular form, 1 inch wide and 2 inches long.
- Place two pieces of conch alongside the wasabi on the rice and wrap around with two narrow strips of nori to properly secure the conch. Each strip should be about ½ inch wide and 4 inches long.
- Transfer the prepared conch sushi to two serving dishes. Garnish with pickled ginger and a small amount of wasabi paste.
Next up, let’s look at a recipe for sushi made with cooked conch. For this one, you’ll need a few more ingredients: teriyaki sauce, sesame oil, ginger, ponzu sauce, chopped scallion, sesame seed, sushi rice and nori.
- Remove the conch from the shell and wash thoroughly to remove sand. Dry with a paper towel and place on a plate.
- Place conch meat in a large pot over high heat and simmer for an hour.
- Slice and mix the conch with teriyaki sauce and add a bit of sesame oil, chopped scallion and sesame. Mix everything and set aside.
- Cut out the nori and spread some quantity of the already-prepared sushi rice evenly on it. Place the conch mix on the spread-out sushi rice. Wrap the nori around the sushi rice with the conch on top of it. Drizzle with a mixture of grated ginger and ponzu sauce.
Best enjoyed with a bottle of red wine.
Others ways to cook conch
Aside from using conch for sushi, there other ways of cooking and enjoying conch. Some of them include:
- You can choose to cook conch in a ceviche; to do this, soak the conch in lime juice for some minutes. Also include with the lime juice any flavoring ingredients you prefer, like chili peppers, red onion and cilantro.
- Another way to cook conch is to bread it; dip the conch meat in a mix of beaten raw eggs and milk, then rub with flour. Deep fry the conch until it looks cooked. Cooking time may vary depending on the size of the cuts.
- Simmering conchs in stews or soup yields some real tastiness. They can be stewed like chicken, and it goes really well with dumplings.
- There’s the Jamaican style of cooking the conch, done with okra, vegetables and sometimes shrimp. It’s quite an amazing dish that can be eaten alone or with rice.
- For the health nuts out there, try making a simple conch salad with ingredients like red bell pepper, radish, shredded daikon and artichoke.
Benefits and nutritional value of consuming conch sushi
Conch is very rich in protein and healthy omega fats. It may interest you to know that a serving of three ounces of conch has about one hundred and eleven calories with just one gram of fat and about 22.4 grams of protein! Amazing, right? It is also relatively low in carbohydrates, containing only about 1.4 grams.
Conch boasts vitamin A and iron, beneficial to eyesight and blood circulation. Sushi made with conch will be quite rich in beta carotene, isothiocyanates, and nutrients like calcium and phosphorus due to the presence of the wasabi pastes and nori in it. Research has shown that these compounds may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Finally, a good serving of conch sushi brings you other nutrients like potassium, magnesium and copper, useful for improving memory and reducing muscle pain, menstrual pain and nausea.
Conch sushi is a very simple type of sushi and is one of the easiest ways of enjoying conch. If you are a huge fan of sushi and haven’t tried it, then what are you waiting for? You’ll get so addicted you’ll have a fridge full of them in no time, and you can be sure you’ll never tire of the healthy meal that is conch sushi.