2 pounds conch 6 tablespoons lime juice 8 oz can tomato paste 8 strips bacon 2 onions 8 cloves garlic 8 oz bag of small carrots 8 oz celery 1 can whole tomatoes 1/2 cup dark rum Old Bay spice, salt and pepper to taste
So here I am, a New England winter storm refugee, hiding on Pine Island with good friends Kim and Claudia. (Disclaimer: Claudia is actually still in New England, call me crazy, but will be here soon!) I had some conch fritters the other day and remembered I had this great recipe for conch chowder, made in the Caribbean style; red base as opposed to white. I’m good at béchamel sauce, the base for many “white” chowders, particularly in New England, but I really prefer a tomato based chowder.
Honestly, I have no idea where you can buy fresh conch; other than here in Florida. I’m told that this is Ecuadorian conch, not from native waters, but hey its a fucking recipe. If it sounds good to you, go find some conch, already.
Peel and quarter the onions, peel the garlic and the carrots if they need it. Toss all these in oil and pre-roast for about 45 minutes at 350.
I like to buy my conch whole and use the meat grinder to chop and tenderize it at the same time. But chopped conch works well too. You can even consider re-grinding it, as I did this time, adding the lime juice to the grind; tenderizing and seasoning in one step! So grind the conch in the meat grinder. Whisk together lime juice and tomato paste in a large bowl, add conch and set aside to marinate.
Cut up the bacon and start to cook it in your soup pot. When it starts to render some fat add the celery, Old Bay spice, salt and pepper and sauté until the bacon is almost cooked and the celery turns translucent. Pour off most of the bacon fat, retaining it for other wonderful dish. (I left it all in this time. I’m starting to worry less about my arteries.)
Strain the canned tomatoes, add the juice to the pot, crush or coarsely chop tomatoes and add them to the pot.
Chop the roasted vegetables coarsely in a food processor and add to the pot.
Add the conch mixture, then the rum and salt pepper to taste.
Bring to boil, then simmer for 2 hours
This chowder is even better cooled and reheated the second and third days. Like so many other dishes, the refrigeration intensitifies the flavor. It also freezes very well. I usually make some days ahead, freeze and reheat.
For non-pork consumers, I have substituted a dark cream stout for the bacon with wonderful results. You'll want to reduce the amount of the juice from the tomatoes in this case.
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