Friday, January 14, 2011
I had my first bite of gator when I was six or seven. It was the 80's. Times were free and loose back then. The restaurant owner was a pal of my folks, and he did that thing you do to kids to surprise and shock their fragile minds.
Try it. You’ll like it. Oh, by the way...dum dum dum dum...it’s Alligator! Ooooooohhhhhhhh...(Funny face. Pictures taken. Adults laugh. Timeless, precious moments at the expense of your child.)
As I got older, gator started popping up in the appetizer corner of menus at every Harbor Side Restaurant and Tiki Hut that catered to Yankees. But these bites were made about the same way one would cook up Crack Cocaine. Take a little bit of the real thing, mash it with a bunch of unwanted fillers, and sell it for ten bucks. (And don’t get me started on all the BS Chipotle Aioli dipping sauces, either.) Not good. Still isn’t good. I’ll never again request gator tail at a restaurant unless under a court order.
In my twenties, we’d have fish fries and Poker Nights. Gator AKA Prairie Scallops would mysteriously show up at these events. Oh, forbidden lizard - a rare and deviant treat that was enough cause to have a fish fry and Poker Night.
Now we hunt these things on the up-and-up and can’t get rid of the stuff. One gator tail, plus the meat from the jowls, legs, and elsewhere, gets a lot of mileage.
Problem is, no one I’ve met really sits down to an evening of gator. I’m sure there are Bayou-Americans out there who eat ‘em like chicken – Yard Lizard, ha! – but I am not this person. If my wife ever asked me what I was cooking for dinner on a given Tuesday and I responded “Gator” the papers would be in my hands in no time. And she likes gator tail.
All joking aside, I’m glad to have it even if it is difficult to incorporate into a cosmopolitan meal plan.
The meat is tough, but with an overnight milk bath or a few whacks with a tenderizer mallet, this is overcome easily. The most important thing to remember is to make sure all the fat is cut away from the meat. Year-old dirty sink sponges probably taste better.
To pan fry, take your beaten gator meat and dip in an egg wash, then pat into Vigo Italian breadcrumbs. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet to proper frying temp and cook until browned. Easy Peasy. Remove to paper towel-covered plate and dash with your favorite seasoning and a little Parmesan cheese. Dip in Frank’s Red Hot sauce, if you are a real man or woman. Or if you're feeling especially kooky, these nuggets are superb for a Gator Po' Boy. Just sayin'.
Gator is also excellent grilled. But that’s gonna have to wait for another day.