Three years ago, we sashayed into Jerilyn Chenevert’s life to cook gators with her.
The self-described “cooking junkie” had some good recipes, including alligator pastalaya and alligator cakes with Andygator remoulade sauce (another of her creations).
Jerilyn has good reason to label herself as she did. She constantly watched TV cooking shows and read Bon Appetit cover to cover.
She travels to food events, too: The New York Food and Wine Festival, Boudin, Bourbon & Beer, the Louisiana Restaurant Show, the Chef’s Charity for Children in New Orleans and the New Orleans Wine and Food Festival.
It seems cooking runs in her family. She gives credit to both of her parents for her cooking skills, but especially her father Richard Chenevert, who she calls “a creative cook.
“He could cook anything from whatever he had in the refrigerator,” she laughed. “We might have hot dog gumbo.”
Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. All three of Chenevert’s children cook, and her daughter Kelseay started out as one of 40,000 contestants in the 2017 MasterChef competition — and made it all the way into the Top 40 before being eliminated. At press time, Kelseay’s boyfriend, Dino Angelo Luciano, was in MasterChef’s Top 3.
Alligator and refried bean flautas
This recipe has its roots with daughter Kelseay, who likes to make flautas. She came to New Orleans to visit her mother and made chicken flautas that everyone loved. Jerilyn took it from there.
“Since alligator tastes like chicken, I made the switch. Then, to add more Louisiana flavor to them, I made the refried beans from red beans instead of pinto beans.”
A note on the bacon grease in the ingredient list; old time country cooks like us keep a sealed jar on the cabinet to store bacon fat rendered out during frying. But few younger cooks do this anymore, probably because the food police have demonized pork in general and pork fat in particular.
For those who don’t keep a bacon grease container handy, it is easy to do as Jerilyn does. She uses Hot Belly Bacon Grease, produced in Mandeville. It comes in an 11-ounce, screw top plastic jar and is available in many grocery stores.
1/2 lb. alligator meat
1/4 cup medium or spicy salsa
1/4 cup bacon grease
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 16-oz. can Blue Runner Creole Cream Style red beans
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro, divided
1 pkg. 6-inch tortillas
1 8-oz. pkg. shredded Kraft Mexican 3-cheese blend
Oil for frying
1/2 cup Tabasco jalapeno jelly
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. cumin
PREPARATION: (Serves four to six)
Cut the alligator meat into 1 to 2 oz. pieces. Put it into a food processor and pulse 10 times. Remove the meat from the processor and break it into smaller pieces by hand. Return it to the processor and pulse 10 more times. Remove the meat from the processor and pull the meat apart. Discard the pieces of silver connective tissue. Place the shredded meat in a bowl, add the salsa and marinate for 2 hours. Coat the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil. Add the meat and sauté until firm. Remove it from the pan and set it aside. Heat the bacon grease in a cast iron or other heavy frying pan. Add the onion and sauté until tender. Stir in the red beans, garlic, and 1/4 cup cilantro, and mix well. Cook for 20-30 minutes over low heat, mashing the beans continually as they fry. Remove the beans from the pan. Spread 2 tbsp. red bean mix on a tortilla. Layer meat, cheese and a sprinkle of the remaining cilantro over the beans, roll the tortilla over the mixture and secure with a toothpick. Repeat until the ingredients are used. Add 1 inch of oil to a frying pan and heat it to 350 degrees. Pan fry the tortillas until crisp. Warm the jelly in a microwave for 20-30 seconds. Add sour cream and cumin, and mix well. Serve beside the flautas.
Gingered shrimp with pea pods
We paired Jerilyn’s recipe with one of our oldest original recipes. Chinese cooking at home began growing in popularity a few years after we got married nearly 50 years ago. We bought a traditional 14-inch carbon steel wok (still the best kind) and started stir frying, a venturesome technique back then.
We quickly learned the secrets of stir frying. Cut up all of the ingredients before you begin cooking. Heat the oil in wok to near smoking and then add the ingredients one at a time, all the time “stir-tossing” the food rapidly.
Each ingredient is only lightly cooked and the hot oil seals in the color, flavor and crispness of vegetables and the natural juices of meats and seafoods.
Be sure to use fresh ginger root for this recipe if at all possible. Dried ground ginger is a weak-kneed substitute that never comes close to matching the complexity of taste found in fresh ginger.
1 1/2 lb. shrimp tails
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tbsp. white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
26-oz. packages frozen
pea pods, thawed
3 green onions cut
in 1-inch pieces
18-oz. can sliced
PREPARATION: (Serves four)
Peel the shrimp and split them in half lengthways if they are large. Combine soy sauce, wine, chicken broth, ginger and cornstarch in a bowl and set aside. Add half the oil and heat over high heat until hot. Add the shrimp and stir fry until the shrimp are pink and opaque. Remove and set aside. Add the remaining oil and heat until hot. Cook pea pods, onions and water chestnuts by adding each separately to the pan or wok over high heat and stirring rapidly for three or four minutes. When one is finished, remove from the pan or wok, set it aside and put in another ingredient. Cook the vegetables only until they are hot and just soft. Put all ingredients back into the pan or wok, add the soy sauce mixture, stir and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, about two to three minutes. Serve with rice.