Odd as it might sound to people from other places, in Louisiana alligators — at least their meat — are considered seafood.
Historically, the animals were harvested only for their hides, but in recent years a vigorous niche market has developed for the mild, white meat.
Wild alligators are harvested during a month-long season each September, while farm-raised alligators may be processed during any month of the year.
High-quality alligator meat is available year-round now in frozen form, allowing amateur chefs like Jerilyn Chenevert to cook it whenever she likes.
The vivacious, articulate brunette calls herself a “cooking junkie.” She always watches the Food Network, and she reads Bon Appetite “cover to cover.”
She lives close to seafood too.
New Orleans’ Old Hammond Highway is officially part of the big city’s Lakeview neighborhood, but for all intents and purposes it is a suburb of Bucktown, an enclave (ever shrinking, but still there) of commercial fishing on the border of Jefferson and Orleans parishes.
“Everything seafood is at my doorstep,” Chenevert said. “I learned cooking from my mom and dad — particularly Dad, Richard Chenevert. He was a creative cook; he could cook anything from whatever was in the fridge. We might have hotdog gumbo.
“His brother Roland was a big tailgater at LSU football games. You could find him cooking cracklings and a big pot of white beans.
“I cook for all the family get-togethers — four brothers and sisters and their children — at least once a year. We do it at my mom Rita’s house in Ocean Springs (Mississippi).”
She cooks for her family’s wedding receptions and with friend Dana Venezia does themed parties, like for Sugar Bowl.
“We are a great team,” Chenevert said. “She’s an organizer.”
Jerilyn passed her love of cooking on to her children: Tiffany (29), Kelseay (26), and Russ (25).
“Every one of them cooks,” she bragged, waving a chef’s knife in the air.
“This recipe starts out as a jambalaya, but partway through goes Italian,” Jerilyn joked. “When my grandson was born, we were throwing one party after another. I knew I had to have a big dish. Jambalaya is challenging unless you have a large cast-iron pot.
“For large crowds, pastalaya is easier. Rachel Ray was the first person I saw making pastalaya, but I was already making it on my own. Using alligator was off the top of my head.”
A note about the meat used in this recipe: Alligator meat is available in many cuts, but tenderloin (from the tail) and jowl (jaw) meat are the most tender and need no further attention. Other cuts are tenderized by the meat processor by putting the meat through a cubing machine. These cuts can also be tenderized at home by pounding with a wooden mallet.
1 lb. Creole Country smoked alligator sausage with pork
1 lb. double tenderized alligator meat
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. granulated onion
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. flour
32 oz. chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
5 oz. wide egg noodles
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Slice sausage into 1/4-inch slices and cut the alligator meat into 1-inch cubes. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the sliced sausage to the pot and brown over medium heat. Remove the sausage from the pot. Season meat with garlic powder, granulated onion, salt, and pepper, and add to Dutch oven. Cook until browned. Remove from the pot and set aside. Add another tbsp. olive oil to the pot and stir in onion and bell peppers and sauté until tender. Stir in garlic and flour and cook until lightly browned. Add chicken stock, thyme and whipping cream. Stir to mix well. Add egg noodles and return the meat and sausage to the pot, cover and simmer over low heat until the noodles and meat are tender and the sauce has thickened. Adjust the salt and pepper as needed. Stir in basil and parsley. Turn off the heat and add grated cheese. Cover to allow the cheese to melt. Serves 6-8.
Alligator Cakes with Andygator Remoulade Sauce
Jerilyn created this dish for an entry in an alligator cook-off in Mandeville. She came up with the idea of shredding the meat in a food processor. The rest of the recipe is a modification of a crab cake recipe she makes.
She admitted that picking the meat apart after processing is tedious, but said, “It is so worth it. This makes the texture crab-like.”
The idea for adding Abita Andygator beer to the sauce popped into her head while she was making a remoulade sauce seven years ago.
“A friend was drinking it and I said, ‘I need to make Andygator Remoulade Sauce,’” she said.
The remoulade sauce stores well in the refrigerator, and any extra can be saved for use with other seafood dishes.
1 lb. alligator meat
3 1/2 tbsp. butter, divided
2 tbsp. finely chopped red bell pepper
2 tbsp. finely chopped green bell pepper
2 tbsp. finely chopped yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 green onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp. granulated onion, divided
1 tsp. garlic powder, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 cup flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. olive oil
Andygator Remoulade Sauce
1 cup Blue Plate mayonnaise
1 tbsp. Zatarain’s Creole mustard
1 tsp. prepared horseradish
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. Abita Andygator beer
1 heaping tsp. chopped chives
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp. capers
1 tbsp. finely minced dill
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. lemon juice
Cut the alligator meat into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Place half of the meat in a food processor and pulse 10 times. Empty the meat in a bowl and break it into smaller pieces by hand. Return the meat to the processor and pulse again. Remove from the processor again and finish pulling the meat apart by hand. Discard any pieces of silver connective tissue. Prepare the second half of the meat in the same way. Melt 1 1/2 tbsp. butter in a frying pan. Add the bell peppers and onions, and sauté until tender. Remove from the pan and cool. Mix the cooled vegetables with the meat. Add granulated onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Add the contents of the egg and the thyme, and mix thoroughly. Form into four cakes and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Put flour in a small bowl and breadcrumbs in another bowl. Mix in 1/2 tsp. granulated onion and 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, salt and pepper to each bowl. Dip the cakes in the breadcrumbs, sprinkle with flour and roll in the breadcrumbs again. Heat 2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. olive oil in a cast iron frying pan. Brown the cakes on one side. Carefully turn them over and brown the other side. Serve with the remoulade sauce. Serves 4.