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Cracked Conch w/ Rice and Peas – The Bahamas National Dish – Day 22/Dish 12

January 28, 2010

To get to our next destination, The Bahamas, we must sail almost due west from the mouth of the Mediterranean over the entire expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.  Made up of 29 Islands and over 600 cays, the Bahamas lie just 45 miles from the Florida Coastline at the north of the Caribbean Sea and is a destination for tourism and off shore banking.

In the late 1980’s the Beach Boys recorded “Kokomo” which became an instant saccharine chart topper.  In the chorus they list all of the nice places that people “wanna take” each other to in the Caribbean Islands, and second on their list is The Bahamas.  Not to disparage the Beach Boys whom I grew up with, but the real beats of the Caribbean are “roots” music tied to the origins of the people, not “made for Americans” almost Luauish Pop songs of luxury travel and romance.   Nonetheless, this song did epitomize the fascination that Americans have with the white sand beaches and verdant tropical scenery of the Caribbean Islands.

To get to the real “roots” of Bahamian culture, you would need to travel back to before Columbus first made landfall here in 1492, to the original settlers of the Bahamas.  The Taino people first settled in the area from Cuba and Dominica in the 7th Century.  By the time of Columbus’ arrival in 1492, there were approximately 30,000 “Lucayans” as they came to be known, living in the island chain.  Unfortunately for the natives, nearly half of these were wiped out by European Small Pox and many others were carried off into slavery.  This paved the way for European Colonialists and eventually the Bahamas became territories of The UK. 

And then there were Pirates!  In 1718 The Bahamas was named a British Crown Colony whose mayor was Woodes Rodgers.  The islands had become safe haven to pirates such as Blackbeard and many others.  Rodgers mounted a tough but successful campaign to rid the islands of piracy returning it to proper British Law and Order.    

Various power changes and insurrections have occurred over the last several hundred years, including a brief occupation by US Marines during the American Revolution.  At one point after the war, the Spanish captured the Islands from the British without a fight.  They remained there for nearly a year and were finally dislodged by American Loyalists fleeing the States after the British defeat.  European peace treaties recognized the sovereignty of Great Britain in the Islands and it was returned to their rule with a newly strong American Loyalist presence.

These Loyalists who had helped recapture the territory from Spain had fled to the islands after the war along with their slaves.  When Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 and then slavery altogether in 1834, the fortunes of the Loyalists would change.  The Bahamas became a forced settlement for the thousands of African Slaves freed from slaving ships by the British Navy and has had primarily African roots since then.

The food and culture of the Bahamas have been influenced by all of these events.  The music and clothing are reminiscent of Western African heritage.  The recipes include a mixture of local flavor including seafood, as well as the influence of both British and African tradition.

The national dish is Cracked Conch and Rice and Peas. If you were to snorkel in the Caribbean you would find the Conch lying on the bottom in beautiful large fluted shells with perfect pink interiors.   Conch is an edible snail similar to escargot but much larger.  Eaten both raw and cooked throughout the Caribbean it is commonly used in soups such as Callaloo.  There are a number of species found worldwide but the most common variety in the Bahamas is the Queen Conch. 

Today, fishermen are required to have a valid permit to catch and export Conch.  This is done to protect a challenged population.  The establishment of “No Fish Zones” and marine sanctuaries has helped to protect the threatened mollusk in the Bahamas and several other areas but populations are threatened by illegal fishing in other nations.  Thanks in part to these sanctuary measures Bahamians still have a well managed and viable commercial catch.  Additionally, there is at least one Conch Farm located in the Turks and Caicos that helps supply the nearly 1000 metric tons per year that are exported to the United States.  

Throughout the Caribbean, Rice and legumes are a staple part of the diet.  In the Bahamas and Jamaica (Both British) they call it peas.  The rest of the Islands whether French, Dutch or Spanish say “beans(In their language)”. However, some say rice and beans, some say beans and rice and generally the proportion of beans to rice makes the final determination.  If there are more beans than rice, it is Beans and Rice and so on.  I prefer more beans than rice as I love the gravy from a well made recipe.  But all of this is an imperfect science since every island has its own subculture. 

I give these recipes a 2 for difficulty for the rice and beans and 3 for the Conch.  I had to search high and low to find a small package of frozen conch, thaw it and then clean it (UGH), but it was not hard to make the dish.  I highly recommend a thorough pounding of the sliced conch with a mallet.  Even after doing so, the areas I missed or didn;t thoroughly pound, were tough and chewy.  Finally anyone who makes Caribbean food needs to have a good recipe for the much disputed Rice and Peas…..or is it Beans?  

Cracked Conch Rating:

Appearance: 3 out of 5

Aroma: 2 out of 5

Flavor: 3 out of 5 but can be chewy!

Total: 8 out of 5

Ingredients:

1 1b conch

1 1b prepared tempura batter

For the Tempura Batter:

1 lb All-Purpose Flour

1 tsp Black Pepper fresh cracked

1 tsp Garlic Powder

1 Fresh Thyme

1 Egg (beaten)

2-4 cups Water

For Bahamian Peas and Rice:

Rating:

Appearance:  3 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Total:  11 out of 5

1 can Pigeon Peas

1 1/2 cups of Rice

1 small ripe Tomato, chopped

1 medium Onion, diced

1/2 cup Tomato Paste

2 slices Bacon or Salt Pork diced

2 tsp fresh Thyme 

——————————————————————————–

Instructions

Tempura batter Preparation

Mix the flour, beaten egg, seasonings and water into a pasty batter. Add the water slowly since the batter should not be too watery but should be of a paste like consistency.

Conch Preparation

Lime and water is used to clean the conch and retard the fishy smell. Because the conch is already salty, Bahamians do not use seasoning salt to season the conch. Tenderize conch by pounding it with a mallet. Cut conch into thumb-sized pieces then pour the tempura batter over the conch to cover each piece.

Deep fry at 350-375 degrees farenheit until golden brown.

Peas & Rice Preparation

Fry bacon or salt pork in a large pan with a tight-fitting lid until the fat renders out of the meat and the meat is cooked.

Next, add the onion, tomato, tomato paste and thyme, then add the peas, salt and pepper to taste.

Next, add 3 cups of water to the mix and bring to a boil.

Next, add rice and stir. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 25 minutes or until rice is tender and water is absorbed.

Serves 4-6   

 

For some great info on Caribbean Music check out this page:  http://www.motuiti.com/BahamianMusic.html

Sources: http://www.nassauinstitute.org/articles/article523.php

Recipe Source: http://www.caribbeanamericanfoods.com/?page=recipes&recipe_ID=2

Next up, Bahrain with an Arabic Curry dish Called Machboos!  Stay Tuned!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2010 12:59 am

    That looks so glorious. My mouth watering to see this recipe. Thanks for this delicious recipe. I am looking forward such more delicious recipes. Keep posting!

  2. January 29, 2010 9:00 am

    Sus fabulosas recetas frescas para cada temporada.

  3. January 29, 2010 11:25 am

    Gracias!

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