Bahamian Conch Salad
I’ve visited the Bahamas many times over the last twenty years.
It’s hard to pinpoint what draws me back each time. Maybe it’s the promise of salvation from a bitter Chicago winter. Maybe it’s the long runs on the soft pink sand beach. Maybe it’s the people—both the exceptionally friendly ones I meet there and the loveable, irreplaceable ones I travel with. Then there’s the crystal blue water that a photograph can never quite capture, lapping gently at my sunburned toes. Maybe it’s keeping “island time” and leaving my phone, computer, and all the technology that tethers me behind. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the food, the kind of food you can only get in the islands—that slightly sweet coconut yeast bread, the conch fritters, the delicately battered and fried in a not-at-all-greasy-kind-of-way grouper fingers, or the sweet guavas dropping from the tree outside the cottage window. I can never reduce a trip down to a single person, place of interest, or meal. The real allure is the intricate fabric woven together from all the above.
A visit to The Queen Conch was one of the culinary highlights from my latest trip to Harbour Island. When you ask three locals to name the best spot for lunch, and they all suggest the same place, you go—even when that place has only one thing on the menu, and it’s something your husband has never tried.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed conch many ways: the famous fritters, on a pizza, in a sandwich, and on a salad. The conch salad served at The Queen Conch lived up to the hype–it was the best I’d ever tasted. We watched as the conch was pulled from the shell and trimmed (Check out the short video below.). A full bucket of the fresh flesh was taken inside where the conch was scrubbed to remove the “slime”, “It’s slippery as a newborn when it’s fresh like dat.” The clean conch was roughly chopped and mixed with tomatoes, onion, green pepper, and a combination of fresh-squeezed sour orange and lime juices. At last, the salad was seasoned with a bottle of golden goat pepper sauce, a Bahamian specialty that is hot, hot, hot. The woman hard at work on our salad tastes each creation as she goes—another squeeze of lime, another taste, another shake of the “hot peppah”, another taste. I’m struck by the inefficiency of a process that will be repeated an average of two hundred times a day during busy season. Nothing is measured. Nothing is weighed. But no one here is in a hurry—we’re on “island time” now.
Finally, it’s ready. The heaping bowl is slid across the counter to us where we’re eagerly waiting on our stools, plastic spoons in hand. I pause in a tiny moment of gratitude—fifteen minutes ago the conch in my bowl was comfortably nestled in a beautiful shell. I watch as Greg takes his first bite. He nods in approval while he chews and immediately dips in for another spoonful. Smiling, I take my first taste. The citrus is bright, but not too tart. The pepper tickles the back of my tongue without overpowering the delicate flavor of the conch. In other words—it’s perfect.
The Queen Conch’s Conch Salad
The freshest conch imaginable, roughly chopped
green bell pepper, diced
fresh lime juice
fresh sour orange juice
Bahamian goat pepper sauce (hot!)
- Combine the conch, tomato, onion, and pepper (I opted for no green pepper.) in a bowl.
- Add juices to taste.
- Season with goat pepper sauce a little at a time, tasting as you go.
- Enjoy immediately! (The conch will get a bit chewy as it sits in the sour juices–think ceviche.)