Conch Fritters

After much jostling in a racers' anchorage, a laid-back cocktail hour with a mouthwatering hors d'oeuvre works to kick a crew's hunger up a notch. "People and Food" from our May 2008 issue

Conch Fritters 368

Chef Alex creates an hors d'oeuvre that makes a quiet anchorage a little more perfect.Elaine Lembo

There's nothing more sizzling than Caribbean boat racing. And there's nothing more soothing after it ends than sailing away to a quiet anchorage, away from the hubbub-even if you've only been watching!

We'd had our fill as spectators at the 27th-annual St. Maarten Heineken Regatta from the rolly outer reaches of the anchorage in Marigot, St. Martin, on the French side of the island. The winds had prevailed at a force racers adore-making for downed rigs and torn spinnakers galore-but our crew aboard Flyer, an S&S-designed Swan 57, was in chill-out mode. Richard Long, the boat's owner; Rick Martell, the captain and my longtime partner; Elijah "Alex" Cherry, the chef; and I sought quiet anchorages, swimming, and a few sundowners.

So we rolled out the jib early on the morning after the regatta ended and cracked off on a carefree, steady reach of a dozen miles or so to nearby Anguilla, a low-lying island renowned for its beaches and pristine anchorages.

We sailed for about two hours and dropped the hook in Road Bay, where we were mesmerized by the thick strip of white sand dotted with a few cottage-size shops and restaurants. After a weekend of dining and shopping at a pace and cost akin to Paris in a setting that's cosmopolitan Caribbean at its best, this new scene proved a whopping contrast. While we relaxed, Alex took to acting on the instincts of his biblical namesake. He accurately prophesied that this cocktail hour would be unlike the previous rollicking ones and that our hunger for an hors d'oeuvre with drinks would soar. Next thing I knew, I could hear some fussing below. Soon after, a wafting aroma kicked my hunger up a notch to ravenous. The source was conch fritters, just a morsel among Alex's vast repertoire of fine cooking, learned while growing up on St. Lucia. For 12 years Alex had worked for his Uncle JJ, a sailor who swallowed the anchor to open JJ's Paradise Resort in Marigot Harbour, St. Lucia. That was until Richard found Alex and signed him on aboard Flyer.

"My whole family cooks," Alex said. "Everything I know is from them. Cooking takes stress away. When I try to create something that I know everyone will enjoy, I focus just on that-and then I feel relaxed."

Conch Fritters

Sauce:
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup mustard
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons hot sauce
2 tablespoons scallions, chopped
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Dash white pepper

Fritters:
8 ounces pre-ground conch, or meat
from 3 to 4 fresh conch, chopped finely
1/2 can evaporated milk
6 cups water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon each fresh thyme, basil
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 to 5 cups olive oil, for frying

To prepare fresh conch, boil it in the evaporated milk and water for an hour and a half. Combine all sauce ingredients and set aside. In a bowl, mix flour, salt, pepper, lime juice, onions, scallions, thyme, and basil. Add conch to flour mixture and toss to coat. Add baking powder to mixture and stir to the consistency of pancake batter. If needed, add up to 1 cup water or broth from boiled conch. In a wok or shallow pan, heat oil to 180 F, or until a batter ball dropped in oil rises to the surface. Scoop tablespoon-size pieces of batter into oil. Fry until golden brown, about 1 minute. Flip fritter over to finish cooking, about another minute.
Serves six.