Island Skills: How to Shell a Conch

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The conch (pronounced CONK) is a type of snail that lives in warm ocean waters in proximity to the coast. The word “conch” applies both to the snail and to its shell. There are many species of conch, and you can recognize a conch by its two spires. Each end of the shell comes to a sharp point. The conch shell is a single piece, which makes it somewhat challenging to remove the shell from around the snail.

Choosing a Conch

A fresh snail should be pink to white in color. The animal’s body should not have any gray in it. The shell itself can be a variety of colors. The size, color and condition of the shell do not have any bearing on the taste of the seafood. The snail itself should not have a fishy smell. Try to avoid a conch that has a cracked shell.

Preparing to Remove the Shell

The conch’s shell is sharp, so take care in how you hold it. In the Caribbean, the shells are often embedded into perimeter walls as a form of security because their sharpness is enough to cut the hands and arms of intruders attempting to scale the wall. You may wish to wear rubber gloves while shelling the conch.

Soaking the Shell

In order to get the snail out of its shell, you will need to soak it in a bath of saltwater. Prepare three tubs of saltwater. In the first tub, use 1/2 cup of iodized or kosher salt to 1 gallon of water. In the second tub, use 1/4 cup of salt per gallon of water. In the third tub, use 1/8 cup of salt per gallon of water. Put the shell in each tub from most salty to least salty, allowing it to soak in each solution for at least one hour. Then, rinse the conch with filtered or tap water.

Removing the Snail

Reach into the shell’s main opening and pull on the snail’s body. If you cannot easily pull out the snail, you may need to drill into the upper portion of the shell. Drilling a small hole helps to break the suction of the snail to its shell. To do this, use a small drill bit and make a tiny hole into the middle of the shell’s upper spire. Wear goggles while drilling. The shell’s sharp shards could hurt unprotected eyes. As you remove the snail from its shell, check closely to see if there are any pearls inside. Many people are surprised to learn that oysters are not the only sea animals to make pearls. The conch is known for making a wide variety of pearls within its shell.

Removing the Covering

Once the body of the snail is out of the large conch shell, you still have some work to do. The snail has another shell-like covering that needs to be removed. You should be able to pull this second shell off with your hand. The snail’s digestive gland needs to be removed before you can cook the snail.

Cooking a Conch

Only after a conch is shelled can it be cooked. The shell is not edible and should not be used as any type of food product. The conch itself can be cooked in many ways, but most recipes call for you to tenderize the conch meat first since it can be quite rubbery if you don’t. It can then be steamed, added to soup or stew, breaded and fried, or sautéed. 

Making Use of the Conch Shell

The conch shell is a well-known wind instrument. If the shell is still intact, you can boil it for at least 15 minutes to clean it. Put the shell in the sun to dry. Once the shell is clean and dry, you can practice playing it.

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