Aaaand we're back.
To be honest, it's too soon. My kitchen is still unbearably hot most days and South Florida is weeks from its first harvest of the season, but a new market (I'm not going to call it a farmer's market has there's no sign of farmers as yet) has opened up at UM literally steps from my office and there's just too much tempting there to not start cooking again.
Case in point, the seafood stand (whose name and proprietor I would have made note of if I had decided at the time that I was definitely going to be writing this up) had some fresh local conch and shrimp at quite a reasonable price. I've never cooked with conch before so I bought a pound.
I did a bit of research to find my options on what to do with it. Basically, they were fritters, ceviche, chowder and stew. I haven't been impressed the fritters I've tried--isolated rubbery bits in a big ball of dough--and I'm suspicious of the texture of notoriously tough conch in a ceviche. So it's down to chowder and stew which are the same thing give or take a couple cups of stock.
Oh, there's also grilled conch steaks, but I really wasn't up for that as the conch I bought was cleaned but not tenderized. I had the choice of banging on them with a hammer for a while or grinding them up in the food processor as most of the chowder and stew recipes called for. On most days I think I'd go with the hammering, but not today. I settled on chowder for a while, but eventually switched over to a stew. And, as you'll note from the title of this post, the dish mutated further.
The stew and chowder recipes generally start with either salt pork or bacon. The bacon struck me as a more readily available substitution so I was going to go with salt pork until I read the recipe from the Bacon Cookbook which made a convincing case for bacon's smokiness pairing well with the clam-like flavor of the conch. So three thick slices, cut into lardons, went into the pot along with a little cooking oil (I'm using a 50/50 olive/canola blend for this sort of thing these days), cooked slowly until crisp and then removed.
Then I added:
a knob of butter
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 small hot peppers (from the back of my refrigerator. Serranos I think.), minced
and a pinch of salt.
A stalk or two of celery should properly go in at this point too, but I haven't got any on hand and wouldn't miss it if it's gone.
I turned the heat down to medium low and sweated them for seven minutes to soften. Then I added a little more oil and two Tablespoons of flour and cooked for seven minutes more to make a roux. Given what I did to the recipe later, this step was probably wasted, but you've got other options so I'll leave it in here.
After the roux was nice and golden, in went:
1 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes, not drained
about the same amount of shrimp stock
2 teaspoons each dried oregano, basil, thyme and marjoram (I have three out of the four fresh at the moment so I considered going with a bouquet garni, but I think dried makes more sense for a stew)
1 pound ground conch (I thought I'd have less, as the recipes advised to trim off the tough orange bits, but the orange bits on mine didn't seem any tougher than the rest so there must be more that was already removed)
salt and pepper
I brought that to a boil, covered, turned the heat to low and simmered for 40 minutes.
At this point it was time to add a starch: small-diced potato according to most recipes with options of yam and yucca. But one recipe, at all-fish-seafood-recipes.com, suggested adding rice. That recipe is the only result Google finds for the phrase "lambi au riz" so maybe the author made it up himself. Lambi appears to be the name for the Haitian version of conch stew, though.
Anyway, I added a cup of rice (rinsed) and cooked for 20 minutes more.
Here's the result topped with parsley, scallion and the reserved bacon.
And, after a taste, I discover something I should have noticed rather earlier. I've just made a batch of conch jambalaya and a pretty darn tasty one at that. Actually, the flavor is somewhere between jambalaya and Manhattan clam chowder. It starts with a bright tomato/shrimp gravy, rich and buttery and rounded with herbs, and fades into a smokey brininess. There's a sweetness up front and a bit of bitterness in the aftertaste too. Not enough to be actively unpleasant, but enough to prompt the next bite.
The textures worked out really well too. The rice has a little firmness to it and the conch just a little chew. Lucked out there, getting the timing right. The flavors are going to be better tomorrow, but I'll bet the texture's all downhill from here.
Still, an auspicious return to the blog, I think for an experimental dish to turn out so well and so interesting. Coming up next (although quite how soon I'm not sure) is a different take on mamey ice cream and I'd like to try making fabada. Xixón Café sells fabada kits with the Spanish beans and pork products portioned out, but there's some disagreement in recipes as to what else goes in there and on the details of the cooking method so it's not quite as easy as that.