November 13, 2019

Conch is making a comeback in Turks & Caicos

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By Adrienne Jordan From Forbes

Conch Shells in Turks & Caicos ADRIENNE JORDAN

The edible marine snail with beautiful conical shells are found throughout the Caribbean, but especially in abundance in the Turks & Caicos. The peach-and-cream colored conch are so popular, it is even illustrated on the country’s national flag.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER ADVERTISEMENT

“Piranha Cove is one of the best places in the Turks & Caicos for recreational divers to spot conch”, says PADI-certified Club Med Seafari Diving instructor, Victoria Roberts. However, commercial divers can gather up to 100 a day in places where shallow sandy bottoms yield conch congregated in large numbers.

A child holding a juvenile conch at the Caicos Conch FarmADRIENNE JORDAN

On Providenciales (or Provo), the most popular island in Turks & Caicos, a visit to the Caicos Conch Farm outlines the farm’s sustainability initiatives due to a history of conch over fishing, as well as illustrations of the conch life cycle.

Danver Fortune, a guide at the explains that conch is considered an endangered species. This prompted the world’s only Conch Farm to be created as a research and development facility raising 3 million conch per year. There are export limitations of conch to other parts of the world, but you can eat as much as you like on the island. “The snail will swim for 24 days and then will start to develop the shell”, says Fortune. “Conch take 3-4 years to mature and become suitable for consumption, and you can determine age by the thickness of the shell.”

Caicos Conch Farm ADRIENNE JORDAN

Historically, the arid island of Turks & Caicos was absent of livestock, but there was always conch readily available since they do not move much and are easy to catch. This abundant seafood in turn has served as the staple protein for the original inhabitants to present day. The average five-year-old conch will yield 4 ounces of meat when separated from shell (which looks uncannily like a chicken breast), and offers the equivalent amount of protein as a steak.

Before the Turks and Caicos was settled, people survived on dried conch, which they made simply by hanging in the sun to dry. Dried conch is soaked to reconstitute and used in conch and grits, a hearty and popular breakfast dish popular on Middle Caicos. Provo tends to use fresh conch in recipes, but in the outer islands you can still find it in its dried form. Some locals will tell you that dried conch is sweeter than fresh conch as the drying process concentrates the snail’s subtle sea flavor.

Dried conch shells creates a natural reef at Da Conch Shack restaurant ADRIENNE JORDAN

Yves Mondelus, a master conch cracker at the popular Da Conch Shackrestaurant demonstrates how to remove the meat from the shell. “If you are on a deserted island all you need is a hammer and a butter knife,” he smiles. He bangs the hammer on the four most prominent points of the shell, and uses the knife to pull the meat out. After wheelbarrows full of conch have been cracked, the shells are placed in piles in the ocean in front of the restaurant to create a reef for microorganisms. This sustainability at work continues as Mondelus hands off the “slop” or non-prime parts of the conch to a local fisherman to use as bait.

Da Conch Shack’s conch salad and conch fritters ADRIENNE JORDAN

At Da Conch Shack, the conch salad (which is served raw as a ceviche) includes 8 ounces of fresh conch diced, mixed with lime juice, tomatoes, green pepper, and onion. If you are daring, you can ask for chopped habanero on the side. Two other popular conch varieties include cracked conch and conch fritters. “Cracked conch” is conch beaten into tenderness, battered and fried, while “conch fritters” are fried conch dipped in flour and mixed with green peppers, onions, and thyme. Don’t forget Da Conch Shack’s dipping sauce for the fritters and cracked conch: a combination of ketchup, mayonnaise, coconut milk, and a dash worchestshire and tobasco sauce.

Conch is very versatile, but it depends on how you prepare it and treat it. “The secret is to keep conch in seawater otherwise it gets tough”, explains Edwin Gallardo, Executive Chef at a high-end restaurant, Seven. “When you cut it fresh and across the grain you get a similar tenderness as meat”. There is a Conch Festival on the island every November, and Seven’s conch chowder has walked away a winner twice. The conch chowder is prepared by searing conch meat for 1 to 2 minutes, and mixing garlic, onions, tomatoes, celery, carrots, and potatoes and sautéing together.

I’ve been an outdoor and adventure travel writer for over 8 years. My writing has appeared in national publications such as National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Shape, Travel + Leisure, Afar, Esquire and more.

For more on this story go to: https://www.forbes.com/sites/adriennejordan/2018/12/29/conch-is-making-a-comeback-in-turks-caicos/#221b876e60d9

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