I’ve never been big on technology. I was the last of my friends to get a cell phone or an iPod. (And even now, much to everyone’s chagrin, I am likely to be caught without them.) I came late to the whole “texting” thing and was the last kid in my college dorm to join Facebook. I don’t own a television, a digital camera, or even an electric toothbrush. I guess I’m a little old fashioned.
I have to admit, though, that the Internet might just be this cook’s best friend. Aside from my trusty Dutch oven and favorite wooden spoon, Google is probably the most helpful tool in my kitchen.
This weekend, Tony and I decided to make paella for a crowd. We visited our favorite fishmonger to select some top-notch seafood—because, after all, your paella is only as good as the stuff you put in it. While browsing the fish options, we noticed they had shrimp with the heads on. We were giddy with excitement! We quickly remembered, however, that one of our guests is allergic to shellfish. Sad.
Reluctantly taking a pass, we went on to investigate other forms of seafood. The shop owner looked around and then silently beckoned us to the back of the store. Out of the giant stainless steel refrigerator, she pulled a tub full of freshly-shucked conch. Tony and I looked at each other with a mix of glee, disbelief, and trepidation.
In the few moments we had to decide if we wanted it, we struggled with non-verbal communication. It was unclear whether either of us has ever cooked with it, or if we’d ever eaten it. We didn’t know if it was on the ethical seafood list. (Turns out, it’s not, which I feel way guilty about.) And we knew we couldn’t put it in the paella, but we just couldn’t say no! So, we went for it.
When we got home, we realized: we don’t know what parts we can eat, we don’t how to cook them, and we’re not sure how long they’ll last in the fridge. Enter: Google.
In no time, we were cruising through cleaning and prepping instructions and diagrams, as well as tons of recipes for this exotic shellfish. There were even videos! Google also assured us that we were right to assume our conch couldn’t make its debut in the paella. Conch is, after all, a kind of mollusk…and mollusk is really just a fancy name for shellfish.
We stashed our strange treasure in the fridge while we threw our Spanish party, but the next day we decided to try conch chowder. Laptops on the counter, we carefully trimmed and prepped the conch. We learned that conch, like squid, needs to be cooked for a few seconds or forever, anything in between and it’s tough. So, slow cooking these little guys in milk and aromatics seemed like a perfectly good way to loosen them up.
The Internet’s one downfall is the overwhelming amount of information it provides. Some folks wanted us to pound the crap out of the conch with a meat mallet, some asked us to boil it in water for an hour, others wanted us to put it in the food processor. We didn’t follow any of those directions. (We probably should have!)
After a good long simmer in milk and broth, our conch was pretty good. It wasn’t tough, though it probably could have been more tender. We should have listened to the Google gurus and boiled it longer or taken turns beating it to death. Strangely enough, the part we actually messed up was the part we knew: the chowder! We didn’t really have the veggies we wanted, and we made the rookie mistake of trying to “lighten” it up by using equal parts milk and broth. (Why does this always sounds good in theory? I need to accept that chowder is creamy and go for all–or mostly–milk!) I guess I should have Googled a chowder recipe, too. Or perhaps just looked at my own!
Determined to get this right, I thought about trying the recipe again, but the conch was all gone. I could have ordered more, but now that I know it’s on the marine watch list I feel I can’t encourage people to buy it. Plus, if we’re being honest, it takes forever to prep! The prep might be worth it for grilled conch, or conch ceviche, but not really for chowder. Clams are easier, cheaper, and more tender in soup preparations.
So, I leave you with my mom’s recipe for Quick Clam Chowder. You can absolutely make this with conch, just make sure you prep it properly…that is to say, use your Google!