Florida Keys Conch Chowder

Ever wonder why Key West inhabitants are referred to as Conchs? Conch meat was a staple for the first settlers of the Florida Keys. In the early 1800s, people from the Bahamas began migrating to the keys and these immigrants were called conchs because of the sea snail they enjoyed eating. By 1891, a third of the Key West population was of Bahamian decent. To this day, natives of Key West proudly call themselves conchs.

Here is a classic recipe for for traditional Conch Chowder. 


  • 1/4 pound slab bacon, rind removed, diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 jalapeno, seeds and stems removed, minced
  • 1 large Spanish onion, peeled and diced
  • 4 celery stalks, cleaned and diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 bulb fennel, diced
  • 1 yellow pepper, seeds and stem removed, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 cups peeled plum tomatoes, thoroughly crushed
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 10 cups shellfish or chicken stock
  • 2 1/2 pounds cleaned and ground conch meat (can also use shrimp or calamari)
  • 10 small new-boil potatoes, scrubbed, diced and cooked until tender, drained and reserved
  • Hot red pepper sauce


In a very large soup pot,, cook the bacon with olive oil over medium heat. When bacon is almost cooked, add garlic and jalapeños and cook for 30 seconds to a minute. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the onion, celery, carrots, fennel, and bell peppers. Add herbs, bay leaves, and crushed red pepper.

Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat. Add the stock, stir in the ground conch (or seafood of choice) and potatoes and bring to a simmer. Add hot red pepper sauce, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes, then serve, or chill for later. Enjoy!

Recipe courtesy of Norman Van Aken. From his book, Feast of Sunlight, Harvard Common Press, 1988

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