Gator: The Other White Meat

An interesting local dish down here on the Atlantic Coast of Florida is “Gator tail.” Along with frog legs, gator is the kind of dish you really only see in bayous and rural wetlands, like the Intracoastal Waterway, which runs up the East Coast of Florida.

The first time we tried gator tail (before I started my diet) was in St. Augustine. It was deep fried and very tender and juicy, and I must confess my little Yankee white girl tastebuds sat up and said “YUM!”

More recently, we’ve gone to a local airboat and fishing haunt, known as the Jolly Gator. It’s basically a fish house sitting in a boat launch, and during our meal we’ve had the pleasure of watching airboats take off to fish and hunt gator in the swampy wetlands, while egrets and similar water-living birds fly by.

At the Jolly Gator, your gator can be served fried, deep fried, or blackened (grilled), and in a variety of spices and hotness. We typically get it blackened and mild, because I am a consummate wimp when it comes to foods and spices. The appetizer looks like little hunks of cooked, barely identifiable meat and yes, it does taste a little bit like chicken. Sometimes it’s a bit tough– after all, this is alligator meat we’re talking about. In a 1/4 lb. appetizer plate (the smallest you can get), there are about 8 little hunks of gator meat.

Today we added some side sauces– honey mustard, ranch, and horseradish. The horseradish was mine– despite being a wimp, I can tolerate wasabi and similar non-lingering hotnesses, and tasting this particular variety reminded me to toss out our old horseradish from the fridge, because it’s obviously lost its kick.

We never see gator in the grocery store (probably because we haven’t tried the non-chain butcher in shop, whose store sign just says “MEAT”), and we never see it in anything but small chunks, presumably because gator doesn’t lend itself to filets. The gator was a bit gristly today, but I still maintain I’ve never eaten a gator I didn’t like.

I wouldn’t mind trying it in a gumbo, though.