Citizens, it is time to turn our collective eyes to the southernmost reaches of Florida, which is home to one of the most delectable seafood chowders in the U.S.: the legendary conch chowder of Key West! 🙂
As noted on the blog whatscookingamerica.net:
“In the early 1800s, people from the Bahamas began migrating to the Keys. These immigrants were called conchs because of the sea snail they like to eat of the same name that was their staple food. By 1891, it is estimated that a third of the Key West population was Bahamian. This explains why the word conch is so much a part of the area’s heritage. Natives of Key West, Florida, and the Bahamas proudly call themselves Conchs.
Did you know: The name “conch,” pronounced “conk” is widely used in the Florida Keys to refer to a lifelong resident of the Keys. Native people born in Key West and the Bahamas call themselves conchs. In times past, proud parents in Key West placed a conch shell on a stick in the front of their house to inform neighbors of a new born infant.
People who take up residence in the Keys are humorously referred to as freshwater conchs. Politicians sometimes issue certificates to people active in community interests declaring them “honorary conchs”. Locals like being called conchs and take pride in the appellation. Source: Florida Keys Best.”
Conch is a common name that is applied to a number of different medium to large-sized sea snails that are used for food in the West Indies, and Key West region of Florida as well as Asia. In 1985, the harvesting of the conch was banned, and it is now illegal to take live conch in U.S. waters, where they are an endangered species. As a result, most conch now comes from the various Caribbean islands, including the Bahamas (where it is sometimes called ‘hurricane ham’).
Conch is FEROCIOUSLY tough and must be tenderized before eating – usually by beating it thoroughly with a mallet.
My version of this delicious chowder includes a respectful nod to North Florida with its use of the local Datil pepper hot sauce and several other TFD tweaks!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
½ lb. salt pork, finely chopped
2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, diced
6 sprigs of chopped parsley
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 28-oz. can tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
10 bay leaves
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce, homemade or bottled
1 teaspoon oregano
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs. conch – note that conch meat can be extremely tough, even if you dice it very small, so it needs to go through the medium-fine plate of a meat grinder. Also cut away any orange flaplike meat if that has not already been removed. Conch meat can usually be found in the frozen food section of your store.
2 quarts water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon Datil hot sauce (preferred) or Habanero hot sauce (TFD digs the spicy)
3 lbs. white potatoes, peeled and sliced
Key West Old Sour on the side for additional seasoning by each guest
In a large skillet, fry the salt pork over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, celery, carrots and red/green peppers; saute until tender. Add parsley, thyme, tomatoes, tomato paste, poultry seasoning, allspice, bbq sauce, oregano, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
In a 6-quart Dutch oven combine two quarts water, hot sauce and vinegar; bring to a boil. Stir in the conch and tomato and spice mixture and simmer about two hours. Add sliced potatoes and simmer 20 to 30 minutes until potatoes are tender. Remove bay leaves before serving. Serve hot and garnished with fresh parsley.