The state of Vermont is continuing to pay dividends for blog post topic fodder. I was in the canned seafood section at the local Shaw's grocery when I beheld something new--conch. Well, sort of. After I looked it over I realized I'd actually had it before, about six years ago in Philadelphia, PA, at a restaurant. But I obviously gave it another try, in a different format.
"Conch" is an umbrella term for a wide variety of sea shellfish. Some varieties are even called, "true conches." But, basically we're talking about different kinds of sea snails. And while the structures vary in appearance, they're known for forming their own, often quite elaborate shells. They do, however, differ from regular snails in another way. Instead of gliding along on a slime-lubricated foot, conches use their bodies to move about in a leaping fashion.
Conches are one of the more widely used animals to humans, in certain defined areas. They're extremely popular in East Asian countries and the Caribbean. Their flesh is consumed raw as ceviche (see August 4, 2013 post) and in salads, cooked in soups, stews, gumbo, or as "burgers," but probably most commonly fried up as fritters. And then there's the shells. Throughout history, they've been used as house decorations, jewelry, money, building material, ritual objects (in Buddhism and Hinduism), and as musical instruments, after a hole is cut in them to make a natural "trumpet." The shells even serve as offensive and defensive weapons. In Mayan art warriors are depicted as wielding the shells as pseudo-daggers, and some current homes embed the sharp shell edges in the tops of outside walls to deter would-be thieves from climbing over them. Conches even make other forms of jewelry--pearls. These pearls come in a variety of colors, but the most common one is pink. Gemologists draw a distinction between conch pearls and the traditional oyster pearls, though. The former are called "non-nacreous" (having a shiny, ceramic-like appearance) while the latter are "nacreous" (having a pearly luster).
The first time I had conch was in the traditional fritter way. Although it was some time ago I recall being very favorably impressed. With the canned kind I went through my usual lengthy and complicated preparation ritual, consisting of opening the container and pulling the conches out with a fork. Mine were listed as being manually harvested, and hand selected, from the "clean and fresh waters of the Chilean Pacific Ocean." These were good as well. They not surprisingly reminded me of regular land snails (see May 7, 2012 post)--white and black curls of meat, with a pleasantly chewy texture. They had a nice, slightly tangy flavor. It was a bit better as a fritter, which makes sense because in my opinion many foods taste better when they've been seasoned, battered, and fried. But canned is good, too, and I definitely will be buying more in the coming weeks.
Or, to make a literary reference, forget Ralph, Jack, and Piggy--I will be having the conch.