Cookin' ATVS Style: Alligator Sauce Piquante

**Ed. Note: Re-hashing a classic in honor of Florida Week.**

This week, I've prepared some lovely Alligator Sauce Piquante. Now, I'm sure some of you (and our Florida visitors) might consider this choice of main ingredient some sort of "message" or "intimidation tactic," but I assure you that this was only an attempt to demonstrate another classic Cajun delicacy featuring a very unique product that isn't widely available. Intimidation tactics. HA! Smack talk. Double-HA! Like we would ever resort to such juvenile actions around here. Our Gator friends should absolutely feel welcome in Baton Rouge this weekend. Come! Eat! Drink! Be merry! As you travel around our beautiful campus on game day, you'll likely have an opportunity to try this dish. If you happen to hear your hosts talking about substituting the alligator meat with something called "cochon de long," don't worry, they're just talking about what will be left of Jeff Driskel after the game. Though, if they break out some measuring tape, you should probably run...

Once again, this recipe is from John Folse's Hooks, Lies & Alibis seafood cookbook, although I took a few liberties with it, particularly with the addition of the Ro*Tel and the tomato sauce and the subtraction of mushrooms. I also used slightly less stock, due to the extra liquid from the tomato sauce.

Gator meat, in terms of color and consistency, is very similar to fish, but is much tougher. Typically, if you were just going to fry or blacken it, you would probably want to marinate it first in something that would help break the meat down a little, like vinegar or buttermilk. But in this case, letting it simmer or an hour or two in a pot of gravy will do the trick.

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Ingredients

3 pounds of Alligator tail meat, cut into small chunks
2 cups onion, diced
2 cups celery, diced
1 cup bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced (I generally use fresh ones -- if you're going to use pickled ones, make sure you rinse them clean of all the vinegar)
1/4 cup garlic, minced
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 10-oz Ro*Tel tomatoes
1 14-oz can tomato sauce
3 14-oz cans chicken stock (seafood stock would be best, but I used chicken in a pinch)
1 tbsp thyme leaves
2 tbsp chopped basil leaves
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flower

Instructions

1. First you make a roux, with the flour and oil in a large dutch oven. I went pretty dark on this one, as your roux should always contrast your meat (light meat calls for dark roux and vice versa). But again, if you are new to this, be careful. The roux will be very hot if it splashes, and it will stick to your skin. And if part of your roux burns, you have to throw it out.

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2. Once you've reached the desired color, add the Gator meat and sauté for 10-12 minutes, or until the meat is cooked. Turn the heat on your stove up to medium-high at this point, if you had it on low while making your roux. This is slightly different than the typical roux-based recipes, where the vegetables are sautéed first, but remember, Alligator meat is tough.

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3. Add the onions, bell pepper and celery, and sauté until wilted.

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4. Next, add the diced jalapeno and bay leaves, and sauté for about 2 minutes.

5. Add the tomatoes, sauce, Ro*Tel, basil, thyme and red pepper flakes. Then, add the stock slowly while stirring, to maintain the proper consistency.

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6. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then reduce to simmer and cook, uncovered, for at least an hour. Stir occasionally and add salt, pepper, granulated garlic or perhaps a few drops of Tabasco as needed. And yes, once again the longer something like this cooks, the better. It also tastes better the next day as well. Serve over steamed rice.

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