Conch, murex, and whelk

Conch meat

Other Names: Conch: Bahamas, Caribbean, pink, or queen conch; cobo rosado (Spanish); coo coo; lambi, strombe rosé (French); sazae (Japanese); schneckenmuschel
(German); sea snail. Strombidae. Whelk: Bai (Japan); bietunkóngur (Icelandic); bocina (Spanish); buccin, bulot (French); buccina, sconciglio (Italian); buoroú (Greek); búzio (Portuguese); é luó (Chinese); ivory shell; wellhorschnecke (German). Buccinidae and Melongenidae. Murex: Buzio (Portuguese); cañadilla
(Spanish); herkuleskeule (German); murice commune
(Italian); rocher épineux (French). Muricidae.

General Description: The queen conch (Strombus gigas_) is a large saltwater gastropod that uses its large, edible, muscular foot to drag itself along the ocean floor. Pronounced “conk,” conch is popular for fritters, salad, and chowder. The whelk is a smaller gastropod with an edible muscular foot inside a spiral-coiled shell. The common whelk
(Baccinum undatum_) is the most popular type in Europe. In America, the channeled whelk (Busucon canaliculata_) and the knobbed whelk (_B. carica), known in Italian-American areas as scungilli, are most common. They are larger and more elongated than common whelks. The murex is a small gastropod with a fat, spiny shell ending in a thinner tail-like portion. The Mediterranean murex (Murex brandais
) has been legendary since Phoenician times for the preparation
of a rare purple dye used only for royal vestments. It is similar to whelk with good flavor, though tougher.

Locale and Season: Once abundant, conch is now endangered, and commercial harvesting is banned in the United States. Jamaica, the Turks and Caicos Islands (which also farm conch), Honduras, and the Dominican Republic are major suppliers. Summer is peak season for wild conch; farmed conch is available year-round. Whelk is found in cold inshore North American waters, harvested May through November in northern inshore waters, and year-round on Newfoundland’s south coast.

Characteristics: Wild conch is usually sold frozen and is quite tough, so it is usually chopped or ground. The meat is often parboiled to eliminate compounds that may cause vomiting. Conch are also farmed; this type cooks more quickly than wild. Whelks average 2 to 4 ounces and have strong, clamlike flavor. They are sold fresh and frozen, whole and shucked, and pickled.

How to Choose: Select farmed conch for tenderness, wild conch for flavor. Common whelks found inshore have a green-brown shell and are smaller; offshore they are larger and have a tan shell. In America, whelks are often sold cooked, cleaned, and trimmed so they are completely edible. Murex may be found in markets in the Mediterranean region. Look for unbroken shells with plump, sweet-smelling meat.

Storage: Store whole conch, whelk, and murex up to 2 days refrigerated, covered with damp towels. Use frozen conch straight from the freezer.


Tenderize conch by slicing thinly and pounding with
a meat mallet as for abablone.

Dice or grind conch for chowder or fritters. Marinate in lime juice for 2 hours for ceviche. Bake, broil, panfry, smoke, sauté, or steam.

Cook whelk in gently boiling water 15 minutes, cool, then pick out the meat. Remove the tough disc that seals the shell’s mouth before eating. Don’t overcook, as the meat easily toughens. Cook murex similarly, in gently boiling water for 5 minutes.

Suggested Recipe: Caribbean Conch Chowder (serves 6): In a large soup pot, brown 1/4 pound diced bacon, then reserve. Add 1/2 cup each chopped celery and green pepper;
1 minced Scotch bonnet or other fresh chile; and 1 tablespoon chopped garlic, and cook until softened. Add 4 cups chopped tomatoes, 1 1/2 quarts clam broth or seafood stock, and 1 1/2 pounds diced new potatoes. Make a spice packet of 6 whole allspice berries, 2 bay leaves, and 2 sprigs thyme wrapped in cheesecloth, and add to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add 2 pounds ground conch and simmer 20 minutes, or until the conch is tender. Stir in the juice of 1 lime and 1/4 cup mixed chopped parsley and cilantro.

Flavor Affinities: Bacon, celery, chiles, cilantro, coconut, garlic, green pepper, hot sauce, lime, onion, parsley, potato, scallion, shallot, sherry, sweet onion, thyme, tomato.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com