Pronounced “conk,” the small mollusk in the large pink shell called conch has been associated with and revered in Key West, Florida, since the mid-nineteenth century. Most often used to make sapid chowders and crispy fritters, conch must be tenderized by being either pounded or finely chopped, to overcome its natural toughness, but few who’ve ever wandered down Duval Street in Key West and stopped in places like Sloppy Joe’s or Bo’s Fish Wagon for a few slightly chewy but wonderful conch fritters are aware of the care that goes into producing this unique delicacy. All sorts of exotic sauces come with the fritters, but I’ve yet to find one that can equal a few squeezes of fresh lime juice. Although you might find fresh conch in Chinese or Italian markets during the summer, you’re probably better off buying the canned or frozen product, since fresh conch is highly perishable after only a couple of days in the refrigerator.
Dice the conch finely, place in a food processor, and grind till finely minced. Transfer to a glass bowl, add the lime juice, and toss well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, egg, and milk to the minced conch, stir till well blended, and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and stir till well blended. Gradually add to the conch mixture, stir till a thick batter forms, cover, and refrigerate 1 hour.
To fry the fritters, heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over moderately high heat and, in batches, drop tablespoons of the conch batter into the oil. Turning frequently, fry till golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in the oven till all the fritters are fried. Serve immediately with lime wedges to be squeezed over the fritters.
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