The consumption of conch (pronounced “konk”) can be seen as far back as the time of the Lucayan Indians, the first inhabitants of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Ancient artefacts from these early settlers show the conch shell carved into various tools, such as bowls, ceremonial objects and even popular musical horns. This sea treasure is native to many countries of the Atlantic Ocean’s warm waters, from the Gulf of Mexico to the northern islands of Bermuda. Unfortunately, it is depleting rapidly in the American waters and in the Caribbean, and it is listed on various environmental conservation organizations’ lists as a species that is dying out. The Bahamas and Turks & Caicos represents two of the few remaining places where large populations of conch still exist.
Since conch is still abundant in the Turks & Caicos, it is free to divers and remains an affordable food source for the local people. Conch is a sweet flavoured edible sea snail whose texture resembles that of calamari. Locals consume it in a variety of ways, including a batter-fried fritter and a tomato-based chowder. The most popular of its variations for consumption is in its raw form: the tropical conch salad, made from a medley of fresh vegetables and a spicy citrus brine. This is prepared much like Latin American ceviche, but with conch instead of fish or raw shrimp. Most places in the Turks & Caicos make this salad to order, diving for a fresh conch and cracking it out its shell in front of your eyes.
If you are keen to try this delicacy at home, you will need a few simple ingredients to enjoy this savoury island dish. Conch salad can be served as an appetizer, and one pound of it can make from four to six generous servings.
1 pound of conch meat (you will need 3 large or 4 medium size conches);
1 freshly squeezed orange;
1 freshly squeezed lime;
Juice from ½ of a lemon;
1 small white onion cut into small dice;
1 small tomato cut into small dice;
¼ of a red bell pepper cut into small dice;
¼ of a green bell pepper cut into small dice;
½ teaspoon of minced scotch bonnet pepper or jalapeno pepper;
Sea salt to taste
The conch is first washed with a mixture of salt, lemon and water. The slime from the its meat must be removed, and then the meat is cut into small cubes. Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl for mixing. The salad can be served immediately or covered so the conch and vegetables marinate in the refrigerator for up to one hour for a stronger spicy and citrusy taste.
Conch salad is no doubt the quintessential dish of the Turks & Caicos Islands – a favourite amongst the locals and the most sorted after dish by tourists. It is a simple, edible work of art with its explosion of hot pepper, citrus flavours and its colourfully designed concoction of freshly chopped vegetables and scrumptious white conch meat.
Conch is high in protein and is legendarily thought of as a powerful aphrodisiac in the Caribbean. It has been an essential dish from the time of the islands’ early settlers and remains adored in this country so much that its presence on the Turks & Caicos' Coat of Arms serves as a visual testimony of its admiration. Served raw in a salad, or in a chunky cooked chowder, conch will capture the eyes and taste buds of those fortunate to try this Caribbean delicacy.