Lobster season opens August 15th and the new fish market is officially opening too. What used to be an informal beach landing where the local fishermen brought in conch, fish and lobster to be trimmed, filleted and sold off of makeshift plywood tables is being transformed into a new tiled and roofed building with sinks and waste disposal. I doubt the fishermen and the boats or their catch will change,but certainly the look of the place is new. Fortunately for us it is only four lots up the beach from Seasongs.
Earlier this week, I went by the market at the typical landing time, about 4:30 in the afternoon, and the tables were brimming with Nassau Grouper. Now, on one hand I particularly like diving with these fish, which are quite friendly in the National Park, and they are getting quite scarce almost everywhere from over fishing. On the other hand, this is one of the very best eating fish there is anywhere. The opportunity to get large, fresh fillets was too much to pass by.
Fish are sold whole weight, which in this case was $6 per pound for the grouper. They fillet the fish right there so all you need are plastic shopping bags and cash. I haven’t seen or heard any bargaining here so the price is the price. You just have to haggle a bit over which fish you want. In this case, I was staying and eating solo so I just needed half of a fish. After a bit of pleading, they agreed and I had a three pound fillet. That lasted me three days. Next, I bought some conch. Conch comes mostly trimmed and is also sold by the pound. I usually ask to get conch by a dollar amount, like “give me $5 worth of conch” which is about two large conch or a little over a pound at this time.
The two green bags are full of cleaned conch.
So what do I do with all this seafood? Usually, I like the grouper sautéed in a little butter and white wine, cooked simple on the stove top. The problem I had with this haul was I simply had too much. I usually make curry with the conch. This time I made a grouper and conch curry which is fairly easy to do with the occasionally limited ingredients available on the island.
Grouper and Conch Curry
- One pound grouper fillet
- Two large conch (about 1 pound) pounded and cut into ¾” chunks (see below)
- 2-3 medium red potatoes (substitute Russets if red potatoes are not available)
- 1 onion cut into 1” slices
- 3 sprigs celery, cut into ¼” slices
- 8 oz whole mushrooms, sliced large
- 2 carrots cut to ¾” slices
- 1 jalapeno pepper diced fine, with seeds discarded
- ½ pound asparagus, trimmed and cut to 1 ½” lengths
- 4 large cloves of garlic, chopped
- 3 Tbs unsalted butter
- 1 heaping tsp fresh thyme, chopped fine
- 1 can coconut milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tbs curry powder
Gently sauté the garlic in the melted butter for about a minute to flavor the butter without browning the garlic. Add the grouper and gently sauté the grouper on both sides until not quite done. Set the grouper aside. Quarter the potatoes and microwave the potatoes for 2 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the microwave and cut into ¾” slices. Microwave the carrots in a little water for 1 minute. Add all of the vegetables, except the asparagus, to the sauté pan with the remains of the butter and garlic and cook on medium heat until mostly done. Add the conch and the thyme and cook for about 3-4 minutes until the conch is just cooked through. Add the coconut milk, curry powder, asparagus and salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until just before it starts to boil. Reduce heat to low. Cook at a simmer until the asparagus is done but still firm. Flake the grouper into the curry, watching to remove any bones (which are typically very few and obvious). Heat the grouper while tasting for salt and pepper balance. Add salt, pepper and curry powder as needed. Serve as is or over rice.
Conch is way too tough to chew or eat as is. You have to pound it to what initially looks like mush. You want to avoid pounding conch without some kind of protection or it will fly all over everything around you and the clean-up will be horrendous. Trust me on this. You will only make that mistake once. The results are worth it. Fortunately, the answer to how you protect yourself from flying conch particles is easy – use a Ziploc freezer bag, not one of those thin sandwich bags but a heavy duty freezer bag. I do this outside, in clothes I am ready to wash anyway, just in case the bag somehow breaks. I find one bag is good for about two conch before it finally rips. The picture, above, shows the finished product, fully pounded conch. I use an old dried up coconut as my pounder. There are also pounding mallets you can buy, but they tend to rip the bags a little easier. I put one conch, trimmed, in the bag at a time. I put the bag on top of a scrap of 2 x 4 and then pound away with the small end of the coconut. Slowly the flesh turns to mush. Don’t worry, what looks like mush actually is usually more or less in one piece after you take it out of the bag. The foot of the conch takes more pounding to tenderize it but eventually it breaks down. Keep at it. It takes me a couple of minutes to pound one conch. There is nothing like fresh local seafood.