A conch is a marine gastropod mollusk with a famous spiraled shell and edible flesh similar to that of abalone, another edible mollusk. The conch is found in Southern waters, particularly the Caribbean, and it has been used as a source of food for centuries. There are a number of uses for conch, ranging from thin raw slices in fresh salads to breaded and deep fried wedges. Some fishmongers carry conch during the summer peak season, and it is also available frozen and canned in other regions.
Two genera are considered to be conches, Strombus and Cassis. Of the two, Strombus is far more famous and culinarily useful, although unfortunately some species within that genus are considered threatened due to overharvesting and loss of habitat. The conches move with a distinctive leaping motion, caused by tensing their muscular bodies to pull themselves forward. The conch also has long snail-like eye stalks and eats along the ocean floor.
When harvested, almost every part of the conch is used. The meat is removed from the shell and trimmed for use in an assortment of dishes including stews and chowders, and it may also be stir fried, eaten like a burger, or steamed. Large pieces are usually tenderized, since the meat of a conch can otherwise be hard and rubbery. Caribbean cuisine has a number of uses for the conch, and it is also popular in Southern Europe and East Asia.
The shell also has a number of uses. Some people use the shell of a conch like a horn, since the spiraled chambers can create a unique musical instrument. Others carve the shells into cameos and other jewelry, since conches form layers of shell as they mature, often in different colors which will create contrast when the shell is carved. Shell ornaments are also sometimes made from conch, especially in the Caribbean.
When selecting conch fresh in the market, consumers should look for firm specimens which do not look slimy or discolored. Ideally, the meat should be kept at a cool temperature in a well drained tray, and it should be kept apart from other fish and mollusks, especially if it is to be eaten raw. Fresh conch will keep for around two days under refrigeration, and is best when used fresh. Consumers who are concerned about sustainable fisheries should avoid Strombus gigus, the queen conch, which is considered a at risk animal species. Under the Convention in Trade on Endangered Species (CITES), queen conch is heavily restricted.