"Norman is a true gastronomic pioneer, even a culinary pilgrim. A self-taught chef, he is equally steeped in both James Beard and the classic European traditions of gastronomy. He found his true cu...
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon roasted garlic mashed, or ½ tablespoon minced raw garlic
- 2 tablespoons minced sweet onion
- 1 tablespoon seeded and minced jalapeño pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced red pepper
- ½ cup beer
- 4 squirts Tabasco sauce, plus more for seasoning
- 1 pound cleaned conch meat, freshly ground
- Canola or peanut oil, for frying
- Lemon and/or lime wedges, for garnish
- 1 1/2 cups ketchup
- 5 tablespoons prepared horseradish
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 ½ teaspoons Pickapeppa sauce
Make the Cocktail Sauce
Mix together all of the ingredients in a bowl. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 weeks. Makes 1 2/3 cup.
Make the Fritters
In a medium bowl, beat the egg, then stir in the milk.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add the egg mix to the flour mix and stir to combine.
Stir in the garlic, onion, japapeño and red pepper, then the beer and Tabasco. Fold in the conch and chill the batter in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a deep fryer or large pot until a deep-frying thermometer registers 350°F.
Using two spoons or a small ice-cream scoop, carefully add small balls of fritter batter, about 1 tablespoon each, into the hot oil. Cook, turning the fritters over from time to time, for about 5 minutes—their color when done will vary with the quality of the oil. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Season the fritters with salt and Tabasco. Serve hot with the lemon and/or lime wedges and cocktail sauce on the side.
Ingredient Note: You can grind conch yourself as you would beef for hamburgers, or ask your fishmonger to do so. If conch is not available where you live, the fritter batter is also quite capable of hosting finely chopped lobster, clams or shrimp.
About this recipe
“When you fly into Key West, the Spanish words Bienvenidos a Cayo Hueso! greet you upon arrival, signalling that you ain’t in America so much anymore! Key West’s airport is called Key West International, and back in the 1970s, the airport was more like a funky bus terminal in a southern town with a bar called the Great Escape that featured an all-girl topless band. It was owned by Stacy Harnish and the menu offered various preparations with the clam-like mollusk known as conch. We locals loved it. These days you can buy them from Venda Storr who has taken up frying and selling perfect conch fritters from the convenience of her driveway.
If I had to name two weather vanes that measure our cooking, I’d say “acidity” and “heat.” It is also a given that we have meaty notes, since we cook so many dishes centered around protein in our kitchen—even many of our vegetable dishes have a meaty power. So, while we don’t typically strive for really spicy (although in some occasions we do), we very often are looking for something refreshing and lifting, even in a simple, everyday kind of sauce. Spice and acidity are the buttons to push, and in this cocktail sauce, you will notice the greater clarity they offer. Every bite counts. Every scintilla of what goes into cooking matters.” – Norman Van Aken
Recipes taken from My Key West Kitchen by Norman and Justin Van Aken, published by Kyle Books. Photography by Penny De Los Santos