Chef Byron Terwillegar, of Melrose’s Blue Water Bay Restaurant, and I agree on several things. One, there’s nothing better than ‘70s Rock and Roll music. And two, when someone says that wild-harvested alligator tastes gamey, what he or she really means is “muddy.” Simply put, they are what they eat.
Byron has spent years cultivating sources of sustainable, natural foods. The alligator on his menu is farm-raised with no antibiotics and is very low in fat. He prefers the tenderloin of young animals, usually 2 ½ to 3 years old. Sweet and tender even when seared at high heat, the meat is an excellent choice for a pasta recipe.
While many tomato-based sauces depend on sugar or carrots to reduce the acidity, Byron leaves that task to the sweetness of our native datil pepper. But beware—while sweet and flavorful, datil peppers are extremely hot (100,000-plus on the Scoville Scale). Handle them with gloves while chopping and preparing this recipe.
A final comment about your choice of pasta. Tomato sauces like marinara “appreciate” noodles that have some texture and hold more sauce. Bucatini is a hollow version of spaghetti and spaghetti rigate has ridges. Either is available at larger supermarkets and specialty groceries.
Alligator in Datil Marinara Sauce
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
6 cloves raw garlic, sliced
½ cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. sea salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 pounds alligator meat, trimmed of fat and cubed into 1/2-inch cubes
1 or 2 datil peppers, seeded and finely chopped
6 cloves roasted garlic, sliced
1 pound bucatini or spaghetti rigate pasta, cooked until slightly chewy (al dente)
In a saucepan, with half the olive oil over medium-high heat, sauté the tomatoes, raw garlic slices and half the basil until tender. Reduce heat. Add salt, red pepper, white pepper and bay leaves. Cover and simmer.
In a skillet with the butter and the other olive oil, over high heat, sear the alligator chunks until browned. Add datil peppers, roasted garlic and alligator chunks to the sauce and simmer while the pasta is boiling, about 10 minutes. Garnish with the remaining basil and maybe a sprinkling of shredded Parmesan cheese. (Serves 4)
First published Florida Sportsman February 2016