(Cover story: Published in Cayman Airway’s Skies magazine, Jan/Feb issue, 2018)
One of the most exciting times on Cayman’s foodie calendar is conch and lobster season, when these prized locally caught delicacies can be enjoyed.
Indeed, diners are in for a treat as Cayman’s chefs whip up a selection of tasty dishes, from traditional to the more modern.
Lobster season runs from December 1 through February 28, whilst conch season runs from November 1 through April 30, when local fisherman, along with residents and tourists alike, head out to catch these tasty critters.
The restriction on when you can catch both conch and lobster has been in place for many years, born out of the desire to protect Cayman’s fragile marine life.
Over the years, the length of the season for both conch and lobster has been reduced, due to high demand. The closed season allows both species to re-build their population during the peak reproduction months, therefore ensuring ample stocks for future generations to enjoy.
Although heading out on the water in search of conch and lobster is fun, there’s no doubt that the easiest way to enjoy these tasty crustaceans is to visit one of Cayman’s many restaurants. And with so many inventive ways to prepare them, you can visit a different restaurant each day of the week and never encounter the same two dishes.
Here are some of our favourite spots to sample these two Cayman delicacies.
Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort
Since the Seven Mile Beach resort underwent a dramatic refurbishment a number of years ago, the restaurants at the Marriott Beach Resort have become a firm favourite with foodies.
At the helm of Anchor & Den is Executive Chef Steve Griffon. He says he aims to keep things simple when preparing both lobster and conch, allowing the ingredients to maintain their natural flavour.
According to Griffon, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is its lunchtime lobster quesadillas, a hearty dish packed with lobster, peppers, onions and a lightly-herbed cheese.
At dinner, local lobster shines as part of the restaurant’s raw bar. Chef Griffon explains that the lobster tails are gently cooked, allowed to cool and then served up in the shell on ice alongside a selection of house-made sauces.
Also a popular favourite at Anchor & Den is the restaurant’s conch fritters, served with lemon aioli, whilst the fresh and zingy conch ceviche is a dish that’s always in demand.
Over at the resort’s bohemian-chic restaurant Veranda, a popular night is the weekly Lobster Fete. Held every Wednesday, guests can chow down on an all-you-can-eat lobster feast, all whilst enjoying the restaurant’s unrivalled views of world-famous Seven Mile Beach.
Mouth-watering dishes include delicious grilled lobster tails, lobster bisque, lobster salad and the restaurant’s famed lobster mac ’n’ cheese.
“One of the biggest challenges during lobster and conch season is keeping up with demand,” Griffon says. “Thanks to excellent relationships with local fisherman we are able to ensure an ample supply of these two fabulous ingredients.”
He adds: “Our menus are very much influenced by what is available locally and what is in season at the time. Every week, we find innovative ways to make best use of whole products.”
Established in 1965, the Lobster Pot is Cayman’s longest running restaurant, and, as the name indicates, is one of the best spots to feast on Cayman’s locally sourced crustaceans.
Some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes include the award-winning lobster bisque; lobster tails either broiled, poached or served Cayman style; lobster thermidor; and surf and turf — a whole locally caught lobster tail served with the highest quality steak.
The restaurant’s “pot” is also a firm favourite. This lip-smacking dish includes a whole broiled lobster tail served with crab legs and shrimp, all served up alongside fresh seasonal vegetables and plantains. It’s a seafood feast fit for a king.
There’s also a fabulous selection of conch dishes, including conch fritters — a Caymanian staple — marinated conch and a hearty conch chowder.
“We take great pride in being a local family-owned business, which 100 percent supports our local fishermen and farmers,” says chef Kerryann Burnett. “We believe the fresher the produce the better the food.”
Located in the heart of George Town and with sweeping views of the Caribbean Sea, Cayman Cabana puts local ingredients at the very heart of their menu, serving up traditional Cayman cuisine with a modern twist.
When conch and lobster season rolls around, expect to see a host of tempting dishes and daily specials featuring these star ingredients, sourced direct from the George Town fish market located next door.
Owner Luigi Moxam says that one of the restaurant’s most popular lobster dishes is its traditional Cayman-style lobster.
“The tender lobster meat is removed from the shell, and gently stewed in authentic Caymanian spices, including seasoning peppers, Scotch bonnet peppers, local herbs, fresh tomatoes and a touch of fresh lime juice,” says Moxam.
Other popular dishes include the lobster ceviche served with salted sweet potato chips, and the newest addition to the menu, Cayman-style lobster rolls.
Locally caught conch is also served up in a variety of creative ways, including conch spring rolls, popcorn conch, Cayman-style marinated conch and a hearty creamy conch chowder made with fresh coconut milk. There’s also traditional conch fritters, served with a homemade jerk mayonnaise.
One way to enjoy both of these ingredients in new and novel ways is at Cayman Cabana’s weekly Farm to Table Dinner. Held every Thursday evening, the family-style dinner shines the spotlight on local, seasonal ingredients.
“No dinner is ever the same, as the food we serve relies entirely on the seasonal availability of local ingredients,” explains Moxam.
“We celebrate all things local, using the ultimate in locally sourced fresh ingredients. We’re working with food that is grown with a ton of love, respect and nurturing, right here in the Cayman Islands,” adds Moxam.
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman
Located at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, diners are in for treat at Blue by Eric Ripert, the Caribbean’s only AAA Five Diamond-rated restaurant.
During lobster and conch season, Chef de Cuisine Thomas Seifried aims to utilise these two ingredients in a host of unique and creative ways.
Conch is one of Seifried’s favourite ingredients, so diners can look forward to a tantalising selection of dishes. He says one of the ways he enjoys serving the conch is raw, with lime aioli and puffed quinoa. He also likes to create an aquachile, a spicy version of ceviche, with beluga caviar and Meyer lemon emulsion.
Fans of lobster can also look forward to equally tempting creations.
“During the spiny lobster season, we make sure that we have a local lobster dish on each of our amuse bouche as well as on the menu,” Seifried says. “One of my personal favourites is a spiny lobster tartar with dashi gelée and caviar.”
He adds: “Eric Ripert and myself are very much focused on using as many local ingredients as possible since you can’t beat the quality. We work very closely with local fishermen and farmers to get the best seasonal products available.”