Monday, February 20, 2017

Chicken Fried Alligator Tail Nuggets with Cajun Gravy and Cheddar Grits

     Classic Louisiana Bayou Cuisine!
     Alligator is my one of my favorite wild game meats.  The first time that I had gator was in Florida at a friends house in West Miami by the Everglades.  Back in those days, Florida was just coming out of the dinosaur age and West Miami was an untamed wild area.
     The guy and his wife had a few chickens and a hog in the backyard.  A good size alligator was trying to make a meal out of the hog for a couple of nights.  For a big gator, a hog in a pen is easy prey.  Alligators are strong enough to carry a 300 pound hog back to the water.
     My friend heard the ruckus going on at night and he went out in his backyard to see what the commotion was.  He spotted the gator trying to get under the barbed wire around the hog pen, so he grabbed his shotgun and plugged the gator.  He had to defend his hog or he would have lost several good ham dinners!
     The hungry gator was a young adult that was only about 8 or 9 feet long.  My friend butchered the gator and cut some four inch thick gator tail steaks.  He cut the rest of the white meat into nugget portions.  The dark meat on the gator was run through a meat grinder for gator burgers.
     My friend's wife liked cooking gator and she really had a nice simple way of cooking the tail steaks.  She liked to chicken fry the alligator tail steaks!  I had never eaten gator before that visit.  We all sat down to eat 4" thick fresh alligator tail steaks that were chicken fried.  The chicken fried fresh gator tail steaks were delicious!  The flavor was remarkably light and clean tasting.  The meat was textured like large lobster tail meat and it easily flaked into tender large pieces.  The flavor of gator tastes like a combination of frog legs, chicken and monkfish.  One taste of alligator was all that it took to get me hooked!
     Fresh alligator meat still has the fat in the grain of the meat.  When alligator meat is frozen, the fats tend to be pushed out of the meat and the meat becomes a little bit tougher.  For frozen gator meat, stewing or braising is the best method for making the meat tender.  Alligator white meat is the most desirable gator meat.   Gator tail meat is the best of the white meat.  Alligator dark meat from the legs is better for ground meat recipes or stews.
     Later during my chef career, I cooked plenty of alligator meat recipes in Florida restaurants.  Florida is not the only place that alligators live.  Down home gator recipes are abundant in Georgia and Alabama.  Louisiana definitely is where the best alligator recipes can be found.
     For today's recipe, the gator tail nuggets are chicken fried, then briefly simmered in the sauce.  The sauce in this recipe is made with standard Cajun Gravy making methods.  A Cajun Gravy can be simple or it can be as complex tasting as Étouffée.  The Cajun Gravy for today's recipe is complex tasting and it is made with dark brown roux.  The rule of thumb for Gumbo and most Cajun sauces is;  For light color meat, a dark brown roux is required ... For dark meat, a light roux color is required.    
     For Cajun food, the amount of cayenne pepper is a matter of personal choice.  The Cajun Gravy for Gator Nuggets should be a bit spicy, but it should not be so spicy hot that certain guests will not enjoy the meal.  Serving a bottle of Cayenne Pepper Hot Sauce on the side is the best way to please everybody at the table.
     For a few years during the recent Great Recession, down home comfort food items found their way into trendy fine dining restaurants.  Both Cheese Grits and Shrimp 'n' Grits achieved gourmet status during those years.
     Rice would be the top choice of starch for accompanying a saucy recipe in Louisiana, but since grits have been en vogue, Cheddar Grits is a good choice of starch too.  Cheddar Grits is a popular breakfast side dish in Southern states and this specialty item does taste good with spicy saucy food.  Flavor is what Cajun cooking is all about and today's Pan Fried Cajun Alligator Tail Nuggets with Cajun Gravy and Cheddar Grits definitely has no shortage of flavor!
     Cajun Gravy (For Fried Alligator Tail Nuggets):
     This recipe yields about 2 1/2 cups.    
     Be sure to have all of the vegetables prepared ahead of time, before starting to cook the brown roux.  Once you start making a brown roux, you cannot stop stirring till the roux becomes a brown color.  When the vegetables are added, the hot roux will stop cooking and the vegetables will be instantly cooked. 
     *It is very easy to be burned by a brown roux spatter, so wear protective clothing!
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 2 ounces of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of flour while stirring with a whisk.  (The roux should look smooth and shiny, not caky.)
     Constantly stir the roux till it becomes a brown color.
     Step 2:  Add 1 cup of small chopped onion.
     Add 1/2 cup of small chopped mixed red bell pepper and green bell pepper.
     Add 1/2 cup of small chopped celery.
     Add 2 minced garlic cloves.
     Add 1 chopped green onion.
     Briefly stir the vegetables with the hot brown roux.
     Step 3:  Add 1 cup of dry white wine.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice.
     Add 2 cups of shrimp broth.
     Stir the sauce as it comes to a gentle boil.
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 2 pinches of thyme.
     Add 2 pinches of tarragon.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 pinch of basil.
     Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced Italian Parsley.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of Spanish Paprika.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  (to taste)
     Add 2 pinches of white pepper.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Stir the sauce.
     Step 5:  Simmer and reduce till the sauce is a thin consistency that can coat a spoon.
     *The volume should be about 2 1/2 cups.
     Place the sauce in a container and set it aside.

     Cheddar Grits:
     This recipe yields about 2 1/2 cups.  (2 large portions.) 
     Step 1:  Place 2 1/2 cups of water in a sauce pot.
     Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat.
     Add 2/3 cup of stone ground hominy grits.
     Whisk the grits as they come to a boil.
     Boil and whisk till the grits just start to thicken.
     Step 2:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Place a loose fitting lid on the pot.
     Gently simmer the grits, till they are tender.  Whisk the grits occasionally.
     *The grits should be just thick enough to stand in a spoon.  If the grits are too stiff, then add a splash of water.
     Step 3:  Add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Add 1/3 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese.
     Stir till the cheese melts and blends with the grits.
     Step 4:  Keep the cheddar cheese grits warm over very low heat or in a 135ºF bain marie.
     Stir the grits occasionally.  (Add a splash of water if they become too thick.)

     Chicken Fried Alligator Tail Nuggets:
     This recipe yields 2 portions.
     Step 1:  Cut 12 ounces of alligator tail meat into large bite size nuggets.
     Step 2:  Place 2 cups of flour in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
     Stir the ingredients together and set the flour mixture aside.
     Step 3:  Place 2 large eggs in a mixing bowl.
     Whisk till blended.
     Set the egg wash aside.
     Step 4:  Dredge the gator nuggets in the seasoned flour.
     Dip the gator nuggets in the egg wash.
     Dredge the egg washed gator nuggets in the flour a second time.
     Place the coated gator nuggets on a wire screen roasting rack over a pan to sift off any excess flour.
     Step 5:  Heat a wide cast iron skillet over medium heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add enough vegetable oil, so the oil is about 3/8" deep.
     Adjust the temperature, so the oil is 350ºF.
     Step 6:  Place the flour coated alligator nuggets in the hot oil.
     Pan fry the gator nuggets on all sides till they are fully cooked and the coating is crispy golden brown.
     Step 7:  Place the Chicken Fried Gator Nuggets on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan to drain off any excess oil.
     Keep the Chicken Fried Gator Nuggets warm on a stove top.

     Chicken Fried Alligator Tail Nuggets with Cajun Gravy and Cheddar Grits: 
     This recipe yields 2 hearty portions.
     This entrée is served in the sauté pan, so select a fancy one that looks good.  A copper sauté pan adds classic style!
     Step 1:  Heat a large copper sauté pan over medium low heat.
     Add about 2 1/2 cups of the Cajun Gravy.
     Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer.
     Remove the bay leaf.
     Step 2:  Add the 2 portions of Chicken Fried Gator Nuggets.
     Stir and toss the sauce and nuggets together.
     Step 3:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Use a spoon to push the Gator Nuggets away from the center of the pan, to make room for the Cheddar Grits.
     Mound 2 portions of the Cheddar Grits on the center of the pan..
     Step 4:  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of thin bias sliced green onion over the Cheddar Grits and Gator Nuggets.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.
     Step 5:  Place the copper sauté pan of Chicken Fried Alligator Tail Nuggets with Cajun Gravy and Cheddar Grits on a hot pad on the center of the table along with serving spoons.

     This is a tasty down home Louisiana style gator entrée that is well worth trying!

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