Because it tends to be tough and strong-tasting if not handled properly, conch (pronounced “conk”) can be an acquired taste to all but Floridians and Gulf Coast residents accustomed to eating the mollusk fresh during the peak summer season. Fortunately for we who love a good conch chowder, the meat is available frozen or canned year round in many food shops. Whether it’s fresh (perhaps from a Chinese or Italian market) or processed, I always pound conch before cooking to make absolutely sure it’s tender. Also, if the ocean flavor of the meat seems a bit too aggressive, you might counter it by adding a few pinches of curry powder to the chowder, as some restaurants in Florida do. Possibly the best conch chowders I’ve ever tasted were in Key West, where many of the restaurants also serve a unique salad of raw conch marinated in lime juice, as well as delectable conch fritters.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat, add the onion, carrots, garlic, and tomatoes, and cook, stirring, till softened, about 3 minutes. Add the conch and cook, stirring, 2 minutes longer. Add the tomato paste, water, and salt and pepper and stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 2 hours or till the conch is tender, adding more water if necessary to keep the chowder from becoming too thick.
Add the potatoes and simmer till they are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve the chowder piping hot in soup bowls.
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