Turks and Caicos is Conch Heaven

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Dear Subscribers:

Happy New Year! !Feliz Año!
We hope that you had a great holiday season and a productive year 2008. With the New Year already underway, we are in process of putting together a fun events and class schedule for 2009. For starters we are offering a 3-part cooking demonstration series with a cultural flair entitled “Guatemalan Cuisine Chronicles” beginning on February 9 at our new Kitchen Headquarters at the Midtown Global Market (more info at http://www.cookparty.com/events.htm). Other fun events are highlighted below.

To welcome the New Year, I had the privilege of traveling with my family to the beautiful and sunny Turks and Caicos Islands, (roughly 600 miles south east of Miami) where I had the opportunity to cook with a local chef from Jamaica. Not only did I learn some new techniques and recipes, but also had the time of my life exchanging kitchen stories with such a fun chef. Ya man!

As a British territory with very close proximity to the U.S., their language is naturally English (and Creole), but their currency is the U.S. dollar. The islands (30,000 pop.) are currently going through a construction boom fueled by tourism. In contrast with other Caribbean islands, Turks and Caicos is very flat (highest point is 49m above sea level) and with very arid soil (limestone). Because little will grow locally, most staples and other items have to be imported, thus elevating the price of everything (an average size chicken costs more than $10 at the grocery store!).

Caribbean cuisine is one of my favorites because it resembles Latin cooking in many ways. After all, parts of the Caribbean were colonized by Spain (Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico), thus their cooking is a fusion of native (Tainos, Arawaks, Caribs) and Spanish flavors. The Turks and Caicos Islands were in the hands of the Spanish earlier in history; and later, the French; and ultimately, the British, thus there is definitely a Spanish-Latin connection there, too. In trying to draw a correlation amongst the cuisines of the Caribbean Islands (as I have been to most), certain traits have become apparent recently. They share some of the same ingredients (hot peppers, tubers, plantains, exotic tropical fruits, rice & beans and some spices) and there are similar dishes that change name by locality according to the cultures in each island. In recent years, Caribbean cuisine has emerged to world-class status (along with the entertainment scene), and I was fortunate to sample a few gourmet restaurants to have a real taste.

The specialties of Turks & Caicos are conch (giant sea snail) and spiny lobster. Conch and spiny lobster are natural resources of the surrounding waters and conch is now farmed to protect the species. Conch is definitely a delicacy with sweet smelling meat, a slightly chewy texture and a wonderful flavor that blends well with any flavoring or cooking technique. I had it raw (my favorite) — in sashimi, in ceviche and in salads. And, cooked — in fritters, chowders, and stews. Delicioso!

As you have probably already guessed, this Month’s Recipe comes from the warm and turquoise waters of the Caribbean — easy and scrumptious!
We hope to see you at one of our upcoming events or classes soon. Saludos, Amalia.
P.S. Please check out our website (www.cookparty.com) regularly for recipes and recent events or to subscribe someone you think might be interested in our events, news and information.

RECIPE OF THE MONTH

CONCH SALAD A LA TURKS AND CAICOS

This is a simple, yet delicious and wholesome recipe that you can create in just minutes. Use shrimp, sole or haddock in place of conch (or use frozen conch if available). The spicy salad is great for a summer party, as an appetizer, as a main meal, or as a side dish. Pair it with a nice Spanish Cava and croutons, pita or corn chips.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

2 cups seafood (diced raw conch, cooked shrimp, or cooked sole or haddock)
½ cup onion, small dice
½ cup cucumber, shredded
¼ cup red bell pepper, thin julienne
½ Habanero chile pepper, minced
¼ cup fresh lime juice
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

Garnish: 1 parsley leaf per serving

Combine all ingredients in a plastic or glass bowl, season, and taste. Chill. Allow flavors to blend for at least 30 minutes. Taste again right before serving, and adjust seasonings, if needed. Serve in martini glasses and garnish.

Amalia’s Special Tips:
Poach shrimp and shrimp in water flavored with one bay leaf, thyme and ¼ cup white wine. Poach shrimp until it changes color, about 3 minutes. Poach whole fish filets until they look opaque (not translucent), about 4-5 minutes (or longer depending on thickness of filets). To finish, remove seafood from poaching liquid and allow it to cool.

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