Recipe Redux: My First Stab at Nisbet Plantation’s Island Conch and Dumpling Soup
Introducing ‘Recipe Redux,’ a new department here at Uncommon Caribbean wherein Patrick and I (okay, mostly I) will be trying our hand at producing a few of the recipes we’ve shared in past ‘Taste of the Caribbean’ posts. First up, the incredible Island Conch and Dumpling Soup I enjoyed during a romantic dinner with the wife in Nevis nearly four years ago…
I may be a lot of things – writer, Caribbean travel expert, PR guy, rum pundit, dad, husband, limin’ specialist – but chef is not on my list. I don’t fear the culinary arts, mind you. Like Patrick expressed here, I too share cherished childhood memories of days and nights spent helping our mom, a Caribbean culinary ace if there ever was one, in the kitchen.
Fry bake, stew beef or chicken, cinnamon bread, carrot cake, peas and rice, fried fish, pelau – I cut my culinary teeth on all of it. I never quite adopted her easy expertise in the kitchen, though, so she mainly had me concentrate on simple things, like making dumplings for our weekly Saturday soup.
Mom’s soup was simply amazing. Chock-full of provisions, veggies, whatever meat or fish we had on-hand, and dumplings, you would never confuse it with an appetizer. No sir, mom’s soup was a full-scale meal in and of itself! No other soup I ever sampled anywhere even approached holding as strong a spot in my subconscious as mom’s until I sat down for dinner inside The Great House at Nisbet Plantation and was presented with their Island Conch and Dumpling Soup.
It was merely an appetizer, yes, much lighter in consistency than the sublime soups of my youth. At the same time, though, it also burst with so much flavor, spice, potatoes, conch meat, and dumplings that it brought to mind my mom’s weekly masterpiece. Of all the fancy, flavorful goodies set before me that night, the Conch Soup stood out the most. I begged for the recipe, which after some prodding we were allowed to share here.
And what a recipe it is! I remember feeling very intimidated upon first seeing it, the long list of ingredients, various prep techniques required at progressive stages, and lengthy cook time all combining to temper my enthusiasm for taking a shot at boiling up a batch of my own.
I finally got up the nerve a couple weekends ago, and I gotta’ say, the initial fears I felt over this recipe’s apparent intricacies were totally unfounded. There’s actually nothing to it, if you have a lot of time to play with. I originally planned to serve the soup as a Saturday dinner in my mom’s old tradition, but it took me so long to finish it that everyone besides the wife and I (we snuck in a late-night bowl or two) had to wait til lunch the next day.
Also in my mom’s tradition, I sought to make the soup a little thicker than I remembered it at Nisbet. As suggested by Nisbet’s Chef Tony, an extra added pinch or two of cornstarch at the end did the trick nicely. Combined with a little extra conch and a lot of extra dumplings (they were my specialty, after all…), my thicker, heartier version of the Nisbet Conch Soup ate much more like a meal than the appetizer I so thoroughly enjoyed on-property.
Where my version may have suffered, though, was in its lack of breadfruit. I used red potatoes instead, and the difference was noticeable. There was just a wee bit of West Indies missing in my bowl. Upon further reflection now, I’m thinking that may have been it.
Either way, though, you’ll hardly find a more flavor-rich, fun, and easy to make soup than this one. Give it a try, play with the ingredients, and let us know how it works out for you!