Sean Park of Kanpai typically makes this recipe later in the year, when he can obtain conch from farther south. But it works just as well with local whelk.
Conch Sunomono With Satsuma Orange Vinegar Sauce
For the conch:
1 pound conch
For the sauce:
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon orange juice (Satsuma juice is preferred)
1 teaspoon lime juice
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
3 tablespoons agave syrup
For the vegetables:
11/2 to 2 cups English cucumber slices, cut into half-moon shapes
3 Satsuma or navel oranges
Tobiko (flying fish roe, common in sushi) for a garnish and texture, if available (optional)
Himalayan pink salt
For the conch: Steam the conch meat for about 5 minutes. When the cooking is complete, plunge the meat into ice water. Salt and pepper the conch, then rub lightly with olive oil.
Sear the conch on a grill or in a grill pan. As soon as grill marks appear, shock the conch again in ice water. Slice as thinly as possible with a sharp knife.
For the sauce: Mix ingredients together and chill.
For the vegetables: Sprinkle sea salt over the cucumber slices, toss and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain very well, squeezing cucumber with your hands to extract as much water as possible. Slice off top and bottom of the oranges, then cut around on the inside to remove the flesh of the fruit; reserve fruit for another use. Put bottom side back in the orange mold then fill with a half cup of cucumber slices (or more, depending on size of orange). Divide conch in thirds and place on top of cucumber slices. Pour a third of the sauce over each. Sprinkle Himalayan pink salt on conch.
By Hanna Raskin
How many other edibles double as an instrument? For 52 years, a Key West preservation group has annually held a conch shell-blowing contest, playing off a long tradition of natural bugling (this year's edition was won by a Coloradoan who honked "Summertime" on the shell his father blew to victory in 1986.)
But the real treasure of the conch is its meat, which can be steamed, fried or served raw. Unfortunately, Queen conch populations have been devastated by overfishing, which is why the Caribbean species landed on Monterey Bay Aquarium's "avoid" list.
There aren't any conchs in South Carolina, but there are knobbed and channel whelks, which also work for musical and culinary purposes. Often called conch by locals, the whelk figures in dishes such as Conch Sunomono, for which Kanpai's Sean Park has provided a recipe. Here, seven more things to know about the marine snail:
1. Whelks have inhabited South Carolina waters for 30 million years. They're found as far north as Cape Cod and as far south as Cape Canaveral.
2. Whelks are protoandric hermaphrodites, which is a fancy way of saying they begin their lives as males and gradually become females. And, speaking of innate orientation, all whelks are dextral: If the shell's tip is pointed upward, the opening is always on the right side. What varies among whelks is color and size.
3. South Carolina's whelk fishery developed in the late 1970s as an alternative to shrimping. Commercial whelking has dropped off since the mid-1990s; the Department of Natural Resources speculates fishermen became discouraged by gear restrictions, limited marketing opportunities, minimum whelk harvest size and uncooperative weather during the short legal season.
4. Whelks are salty-sweet, with a gentle marine funk you may recognize from other mollusks. They are chewy, but not disconcertingly so. Experienced cooks sometimes recommend tenderizing the meat with a hammer.
5. If you purchase whelk meat in the shell, and wish to save the shell as a souvenir, boil the whelk for five minutes and then pry out the meat with a screwdriver.
6. Native Americans fashioned wampum, or trading beads, from whelk shells.
7. During the winter, whelks hang out in very deep water, but migrate to warmer, shallower areas come spring. If you find a whelk, make sure it's alive before you attempt to prepare it.
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