Stir-fried Crunchy Conch

As a child of eleven, working in my uncle’s restaurant, I disliked a number of things that I never got used to. One of them involved the preparing of conch. Every other Thursday in the summer season, as the youngest member of the kitchen staff, I had to go through an 80 lb burlap sack of live conch. I would break open the shells with a hammer, clean out the messy parts and salvage the edible footlike muscle part. This was tedious, wearying work, and I know I broke at least three hammers during my apprenticeship.

Conch is a Caribbean seafood, unknown in China. But the Chinese love shellfish, and if they encounter something edible in an alien form, their cooks will turn it into a Chinese dish. Conch is related to the more prestigious abalone and, like that delicacy, it can be tenderized and eaten raw or cooked in various ways. In our restaurant, the conch was refrigerated right next to other delicacies reserved for Chinese patrons of our ‘second menu’: birds nest, shark’s fin and sea cucumber. Such exotic offerings drew Chinese from all over Chicago to my uncle’s restaurant.

Despite the galley-slave labours of my childhood, I love stir-fried conch to this day. It is even more enjoyable now that I don’t have to face 80 lb sacks of the stuff! Fresh conch is the best, but the frozen works nicely.

This recipe makes the best of the conch’s chewy texture by matching it with delightful seasonings and colour. Chinese cooking is ideal for conch because it needs to be cooked quickly or it will get tough.

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Ingredients

  • 450 g (1 lb) frozen or fresh conch meat
  • tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 fresh ginger slices, 7.5 cm × 3 mm (3 × ⅛ in)
  • 115 g (4 oz) peeled and sliced fresh water chestnuts
  • 115 g (4 oz) mangetouts, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 120 ml (4 fl oz) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour mixed with 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Method

Slice the conch meat in half horizontally, then crossways and lengthways into 2.5 cm (1 in) pieces.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Drizzle in the groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, toss in the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Then dump in the conch, water chestnuts and mangetouts. Continue to stir-fry for 1 minute. Now drizzle in the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, pepper and chicken stock. When the mixture has come to the boil, slowly stir in the cornflour mixture, stirring all the while. As soon as the sauce has slightly thickened, stir in the sesame oil and transfer the conch mixture to a platter. Serve at once.

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