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March 3, 2015 | Vanda Lewis

By VANDA LEWIS

Posted March 3, 2015 

Conch/whelk on a rake.

Whelk, such as this knobbed whelk, is mistakenly called conch in North Carolina. Photo by Vanda Lewis.

Conch stew is an unusual recipe that most of you have probably not tried.

While I have prepared this stew many times, I have to admit I thought I was cooking conch (family Strombidae). However, later I learned it’s actually whelk (family Buccinidae).

My colleague Terri Kirby Hathaway explains the naming confusion in her blog post.

To my knowledge, in Carteret County, it always has been called conch stew or chowder. It is even sold in local markets as “conch.” It is available during the winter months and throughout spring, sold frozen by the pound or quart.

Cooks in Carteret County’s Down East region often have their own version of conch/whelk stew. Some add potatoes and onions, canned biscuits or cornmeal dumplings. The key to good stew is to tenderize the meat with a mallet prior to stewing.

Below is a recipe I adapted from my mother Donna and Ruth, my mother-in-law. To go along with the stew, I recommend cornmeal dumplings and Ruth’s turn cakes.

Conch stew with dumpling in a cup.

Conch/whelk stew is a Down East Carteret County specialty. Photo by Vanda Lewis.

Conch/Whelk Stew

  • 1 quart conch (whelk), cleaned, cut in small pieces and tenderized
  • 3 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

On medium heat, in a large pot fry the bacon. Remove bacon. Add oil and flour and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in water. Add conch (whelk) and salt, stir well.  Bring to boil for 15 minutes then skim the foam off the top and then add black pepper. (Watch closely to prevent from boiling over.)

Cover and continue to cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  Add cornmeal dumplings and cook 30 minutes longer or until conch (whelk) is tender. If needed, adjust seasoning.

Donna’s Cornmeal Dumplings 

  • 1 cup plain medium ground cornmeal
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¾ cup water

Mix dry ingredients. Slowly add water and mix well. Next, form dumplings and add to stew. Cook 30 minutes.

For traditional seafood recipes, check out Mariner’s Menu, featuring many recipes from Joyce Taylor’s resource book Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas.

To learn more about gastropods, order a copy of Hugh Porter’s book, Seashells of North Carolina by contacting Sandra Harris at 919-515-9010 or sandra_harris@ncsu.edu.

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