“We’re going to have conch for dinner,” exclaimed the very independently-minded young guest. “Look, I’ve collected a pile over there on the beach.”
We were anchored on a 50ft monohull just a couple of hundred feet from the shore.
“Okay,” said Charlie, apprehensively, “you’ll need to clean them, slice them and tenderize them before you cook them.”
Charlie was not a fan of conch. In his opinion the taste was not enticing, the texture rubbery and the resulting conch fritters (the dish of choice by most tourists) were deep fried balls of dough with bits of conch mixed in. They were designed to stop your heart pumping.
The excited 16-year-old grabbed a bucket and some tools, jumped into the dinghy, and headed to the beach. After half an hour, Charlie glanced over to the sandy spot where the likely lad was now attempting to smash the conch into submission with a large rock. He was covered in bits of shell, various and sundry conch body parts and gelatinous dribbly bits. He stopped every few seconds to swat the ever increasing swarm of biting insects.
Charlie took pity on the hapless youth. He swam over to the beach, showed the intrepid food gatherer how to make a slit in the shell to cut the muscle to extract the doubtful gastropod and then instructed him how to remove the inedible bits and clean off the jelly that adheres to it like, well, something sticks to a blanket.
An hour later the youth arrived back at the boat covered in red blotches from insect bites. He was carrying several lumps of slimy, multi-colored meat covered in a combination of sand and mucous, “Mum,” he called out, “I’ve brought dinner.” He plunked it down on the counter and said, “Charlie, do you know which the edible sea urchins are? I saw a few over by the rocks. Perhaps we could try some for hors d’oeuvres.”
Charlie sighed inwardly but put on a brave face. “The edible ones are the white ones with short spines. There’s about a teaspoonful of yellow roe on the inside of the shell. You’ll need a bucketful for four people.”
“I heard it tastes like caviar. I’ll pick up plenty so that you can have the biggest portion.”
“Oh, the kid has a heart of gold,” thought Charlie with a groan, definitely a dangerous thing in a 16-year-old.
Another hour passed and then the dinghy approached and our valiant adventurer handed Charlie the bucket. It contained some orange substance floating in a mixture of dirty water, shell fragments and brownish shellfish intestines. Charlie had seen vomit look more appetizing. “Nice score,” he said to the smiling lad.
At 6pm Charlie announced to the family that he was going ashore to visit friends. “Don’t wait up,” he shouted as he sped away in the dinghy. It was much later when he returned after several libations. He entered the dimly lit main salon and found a plate of food waiting for him. There was even a half bottle of white wine sitting next to his plate. Although he was hungry he quietly went on deck and scraped the food over the side.
In the morning Mum asked, “How did you enjoy the coconut shrimp in curry sauce?”
Charlie blinked for a moment, “Delicious,” he lied. “What happened to the conch?”
“Went over the side,” whispered Mum. “You didn’t think we’d eat that did you?”
Charlie was starving but the fish had eaten well that night.
Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.