Friday, July 20, 2012

Belizean Conch Soup

Conch soup is a traditional coastal dish in Belize. Queen conches are those big beautiful snail shells you see photos of in ads for the Caribbean. Being a large snail, they are also full of delicious muscle, with a hint of sweetness like a scallop, and the toughness of something that inches along on its foot. There is a way around that however. First you knock a hole in the pointy end of the shell, then you stick a knife in the hole and cut the conch where it attaches to its shell. Then you pull it out, as in the picture below:

 Once you have it out you cut off the guts, eyes and the thick yellowish "skin" leaving a white tasty yet tough muscle. Now, grab a hammer or better yet, a meat mallet, and beat the crap out of that foot until it tenderizes. Cut it up into pieces and you are ready to make conch ceviche or conch soup, or just add some wasabi and soy and enjoy as is-a real island treat when out fishing for the day:

Conch soup takes these tenderized pieces of sweet deliciousness and turns them into a hearty and filling stew made with a brown flour roux.

Conch soup is one of those traditional dishes made by "feel", with ingredients varying according to what is at hand and what each cook prefers, but some items are mandatory.

  • At least a pound or two of cleaned, tenderized conch cut into big bite sized pieces.
  • One salt brined piece of pigtail or other similar salty pork product.
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Sweet Pepper
  • Some kind of what we call in Belize "Groundfoods". Sweet potato, coco-yam, cassava, breadfruit or green banana or plantain can be used, cut into large chunks so they wont dissolve as they cook.
  • Some firm ripe plantain to add a sweet balance to the dish
  • If you want to throw in okra, chayote or any other addition, feel free. This dish is flexible.
  • Tomatoes are a common addition to the pot if you desire.
  • Flour
  • Coconut oil
  • Seasonings: I like cilantro or culantro and a big leafed tropical oregano that is common throughout Belize and which some people call "thyme". Fresh ground black pepper. The brined pigtail is salty, so dont add salt til you have tasted the finished product.

1. Cut up the pigtail into pieces and heat up several tablespoons of coconut oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Toss in the pigtail and 3-4 tablespoons of flour and stir vigorously until the flour-oil mixture turns a medium brown.
2. Add chopped up onion, garlic, sweet pepper, ground foods and other ingredients (okra, tomatoes, whatever else you are adding) except for the conch. Saute for a few minutes then add water to cover the ingredients.
3. Simmer until the groundfoods are cooked through then add the ripe plantain and conch and cook until tender.
4. Serve with habanero pepper sauce and a cold glass of lime juice to cut the heaviness of the meal. Traditionally rice cooked with coconut milk is served with these hearty stews, but it is already filling without that addition.

In Belize this is a dish that is considered to help cure a hangover and also is thought to improve sexual stamina and performance. It also happens to be delicious.