Conch fritters have become one of my ultimate go-to menu choices when down in southern Florida. I had never had them (or even heard of them, for that matter) before my Chief Culinary Consultant clued me in on what I was missing. Before our first trip down to Florida together about two and a half years ago, he really talked them up, and told me I had to try them. I’m usually game for fried anything, so I promised I would give them a try. I think we ended up having them at no less than three different places that week. Needless to say, I was hooked! We just came back from our fourth trip down there, and they continue to be a staple of ours. We’ve finally settled on a favorite (Benny’s on the Beach in Lake Worth), but started talking about tackling them at home. I promised to try them before we left, and on our last night in Florida, I whipped them up. I was pleasantly surprised (shocked, really) that the flavor was dead-on and the dipping sauce was near perfection. Now there’s no excuse for waiting to get to the ocean before having conch fritters!
I kind of thought that being less than 10 minutes from the ocean would mean that conch would be readily available at most markets. I thought wrong. Finding conch ended up being a wild goose chase. The good news is that I’ve already scoped it out in Pittsburgh and found that Wholey’s in the Strip District carries a five-pound box of frozen conch. Conch fritters in the ‘Burgh, look out! If you can’t find conch, shrimp makes an excellent substitution. (I would recommend using the frozen, cooked shrimp. Thaw according to the package directions, and then remove the tails before mincing.)
I think I spent an entire day flipping through cookbooks and Googling conch fritter recipes. I never found one recipe that seemed like a dead ringer for the fritters we’ve grown to love, so I ended up improvising. I used some basic fritter ratios of flour, baking soda, egg, and milk and then added in the ingredients and seasonings that we love. The result was an amazing, raging success. We like our conch fritters spicy, and these definitely have a nice bite, but we’d probably ratchet up the heat just a tiny bit more. The dipping sauce lends heat as well, so go by your own personal preferences. You can add or omit cayenne to get to your desired level of spice.
If you’ve never had a conch fritter, I insist that you must try them the next time you see them on a menu. You won’t know how you ever ate before they came into your life! Or instead of waiting for them to appear on a menu, make them at home :) They come together really quickly – the longest part of the recipe is waiting for the oil to heat up. Make yourself a mojito or rum runner and have an island party in the kitchen with these conch fritters!
Make the Dipping Sauce: Puree the salsa in a blender. Transfer to a medium bowl and add the mayonnaise, garlic powder, basil, salt, cayenne, and pepper and whisk well to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Stir well before serving.
Make the Fritters: Pour oil into a small frying pan or deep skillet, so that it comes at least one inch up the sides of the pan. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F.
Meanwhile, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and egg in a large bowl and stir well (the combination will look shaggy). Add the buttermilk to create a thick paste (the mixture should be the consistency of muffin batter). Stir in the conch, jalapeño, onion, red pepper, carrots, garlic, and seasoning, making sure that the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Using spoons or a cookie scoop, drop 1-inch balls of batter into the oil. Fry, turning with a slotted spoon, until golden brown, about 2 minutes for smaller fritters, up to 4 minutes if you made them a little larger. If you need to, work in batches so that you don't over-crowd the pan.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fritters to paper towels to drain. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.
Note: If you can't find conch, you can substitute shrimp.