Other Names:Gator, lagarto (Spanish), Mississippi alligator, pike-headed alligator.
Description The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is the largest reptile in North America and is a popular meat in Cajun cooking. This large reptile, which averages in length from 6 to 12 feet (1.8-3.6 m), is indigenous to the southeastern United States and inhabits swampy areas of the coastal plain. Most commercial alligator comes from Louisiana, where it is commonly processed in September. Alligator can be wild, though this type is less common, or farm-raised, which will be less chewy or fishy tasting. Thousands of nuisance alligators are killed annually in Florida by licensed hunters. Their meat is then processed and sold commercially. Historically, Seminole Indians would catch alligators, keep them in pens until they were large enough to eat, and then smoke them over hickory or oak.
Alligator meat can be made into cajun jambalaya or étouffée, blackened, breaded and fried, or cut into medallions and sautéed, but it should always be cooked to well-done. The body and leg meat cuts are good for burgers, casseroles, sausages, and stews. Jaw and tail meat work well for cutlets and medallions.
Characteristics: Alligator has lean, light-colored meat with a mild taste that is somewhere between chicken and rabbit with a fishy aftertaste and watery texture. The choicest alligator cuts are the jaw and the tail, which is similar to veal in texture, light pink to white in color, with bands of hard, white fat that appear circular in cross-section and run lengthwise near the tailbone. The tenderloin is a cylindrical tube inside the tail. The body meat is darker, stronger in flavor, and tougher in texture (similar to pork shoulder). The leg meat is dark with small fat deposits along the tendons.
How to Choose: Farm-raised alligators are all white meat and will be about 4 1/2 feet long; wild alligators have reddish meat in the legs and the body. A young alligator that is 2 to 3 years old will be more tender than older alligators.
Amount to Buy: For boneless alligator, allow 4 to 6 ounces per portion; allow 1/2 pound or one side of ribs per person.
Storage:Almost all alligator meat is sold frozen. Defrost in the refrigerator on a tray. Use within 1 day.
- All fat and sinew must be removed, including the yellowish fat between the layers.
- The tail and jaw can be cut into medallions and sautéed, fried, or grilled. The ribs can be barbecued.
- When using leg or body meat, the white tendons and vessels should also be removed.
Flavor Affinities: Bacon, beer, Cajun andouille sausage, cayenne pepper, garlic, jalapeño chiles, lemons, onions, tomatoes.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com