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Conch Chowder with Saffron, Coconut, and Orange

Ingredients
Serves:
Broth
1/4 cup
olive oil
1
Scotch bonnet chili, seeded and minced
6
shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4
cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
12
small clams, scrubbed
12
mussels, debearded and scrubbed
1
whole star anise
1 tablespoon
cracked black peppercorns
3 cup s
freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoon s
saffron threads
4 cup s
heavy cream
1 cup
canned coconut milk
Vegetables
6
new potatoes (about 1 pound), scrubbed and diced
1/2 cup
olive oil
2 ounce s
(about 1/2 cup) diced smoked slab bacon
4
cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1
poblano chili, seeded and minced
2/3 cup
fresh corn kernels (from about 1 ear)
1/2
red onion, peeled and diced
2
large carrots, diced
1/2
fennel bulb, cored and diced
2
celery stalks, diced
1
red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup
roughly chopped cilantro leaves
2
bay leaves, broken into pieces
salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Conch
12 ounce s
cleaned conch, thinly sliced and lightly pounded until tender
salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup
flour
2 cup s
panko crumbs (available in Asian and specialty food markets)
2
large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tablespoon s
half-and-half
3/4 cup
peanut oil
  1. Prepare the Broth: In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chili, shallots, and garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the clams, mussels, star anise, cracked pepper, and orange juice. Stir and cover the pan. As the shellfish open, transfer them to a colander set over a bowl to catch their liquid; keep the pan covered as much as possible. Discard any shellfish that don't open after 10 minutes. 
  2. After all the clams and mussels have been removed, return any liquid in the bowl to the pan. Uncover the pan and boil until the liquid reduces to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Add the saffron, cream, and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce until the mixture is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and strain its contents into a bowl; discard the solids. Remove the clam and mussel meat from the shells; reserve the meat and discard the shells. 
  3. Prepare the Vegetables: Bring a saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil, add the potatoes, and simmer until just underdone, 8 to 10 minutes. Strain the potatoes and set aside. In a large, heavy soup pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil and sauté the bacon until half-cooked. Stir in the garlic and poblano chili. Stir in the corn, onion, carrots, fennel, celery, and bell pepper. Add the cilantro, bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until the vegetables are just tender, about 8 minutes. Add the potatoes, reserved saffron cream, and clam and mussel meat. Keep warm. 
  4. Prepare the Conch: Season the conch with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the flour and the panko on separate plates. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and half-and-half. Dredge the conch slices in flour, then in egg wash, and finally in panko. Set aside on a large plate. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and heat the oil. Working in batches, sauté the conch until nicely browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels and chop into bite-sized pieces. 
  5. To serve, ladle the soup into warm bowls, and scatter pieces of conch on top. Serves 8 to 10.
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About this Recipe

When I visited my friend Norman Van Aken in Miami for my Food Network TV show, the acclaimed chef not only took me on a tour of that city's vibrant Cuban neighborhood but also brought me back to his restaurant to join him in making his signature Caribbean-inspired chowder.

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