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story.lead_photo.caption Skinning an alligator you’ve killed yourself can be a daunting task, as Keith Sutton of Alexander, right, and Chuck Long of Marmaduke learned after killing this 7 1/2-footer. But the delicious meat that results will provide many meals for family and friends. - Photo by Keith Sutton

On Friday through Sept. 24, and again Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, dozens of lucky hunters will be prowling the swamps and bayous of southern Arkansas in search of one of the state’s largest big-game animals, the American alligator.

One hundred eight people drew permits from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to hunt these massive reptiles this year, and opportunities for a successful hunt are better than ever, as the south-central portion of the state has been opened to harvest.

Mark Barbee, wildlife biologist for the Game and Fish Commission’s Monticello regional office, said Zone 2 has been closed to all alligator sport hunting since alligator hunting began in 2007. It was used as a control area to analyze the impact of hunting on alligator populations in the two open zones (southeast and southwest Arkansas). Now, in the 12th season of modern-day alligator hunting in Arkansas, that control is no longer warranted and justified.

“We’ve been able to show that Arkansas’ alligator population is stable and can support a limited sport hunt,” Barbee said. “Opening the zone offers more opportunity for hunters to draw a tag and may potentially address some nuisance-alligator situations.”

Each permit authorizes the harvest of one alligator, which must be at least 4 feet long. The 94 gators harvested during the 2017 hunt included lots of 6- to 9-footers. No one checked in an alligator topping the current state record of

13 feet, 10 inches, but several hunters killed 11- and 12-foot alligators weighing hundreds of pounds each. That’s a lot of delicious meat to eat, but many hunters have no idea how to prepare alligator for the dinner table.

I was in the same boat after the 2013 Arkansas alligator hunt. I was one of 64 lucky hunters who drew a permit that year, and on the hunt’s second weekend, I killed a 7 1/2-footer that produced about 50 pounds of meat that I shared with friends who had assisted in the hunt. That still left lots of delicious tail meat, jowls and leg meat to cook, but I had no idea what recipes might be best for preparation.

Fortunately, I had listened closely to Mark Barbee’s suggestions during the training session that all Arkansas gator hunters are required to attend.

“You have to have a plan of action ready to go if you harvest a gator,” he said. “You can’t just ride around with it for hours before getting it on ice. The gator’s watertight hide will trap whatever heat is in it, so you have to do what you can to get it cooled quickly and have a processor you can get it to that next morning if possible.”

I chose to skin and process my own gator with the help of friends, and we had the animal iced down within a very short time of killing it. Over the next few weeks, my family and friends enjoyed many scrumptious meals of gator as a result. The recipes we used were largely shared by gator hunters I know in Louisiana and South Carolina, and some of these I share with you here as well.

If you weren’t fortunate enough to get your own alligator hunting permit this year, or to have a generous friend who did, you can still try some alligator cuisine at home. The seafood sections at many Walmart stores and large grocers now carry bags of frozen farm-raised alligator meat, so you don’t have to wrestle a gator to eat one. Just slip on down to the market, buy some, and give it a try using one of these recipes that are sure to please your dinner guests.

Fried Alligator

Ingredients:

Alligator meat, cut in 1/2-inch cubes

Vinegar

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Cayenne pepper

Corn meal

Flour

Cooking oil

Directions:

Place the gator meat in a shallow dish. Pour on a small amount of vinegar; season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne; and allow to sit for

30 minutes. While the gator soaks, mix four parts corn meal to one part flour in a large paper or plastic bag. Put about 1 inch of cooking oil in a skillet or deep fryer, and heat to 400 degrees. Dredge the alligator cubes in the corn meal/flour mixture; then place in hot oil and fry until golden. Use only enough pieces to cover the bottom of the skillet. Serve hot.

Grilled Cajun-Style Gator Tail

Ingredients:

2 to 3 pounds boneless gator tail meat

6 tablespoons paprika

3 tablespoons garlic powder

1 1/2 tablespoons salt

1 1/2 tablespoons white pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons oregano, crushed

1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper

1 tablespoon thyme

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:

Combine all ingredients except the tail meat in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to mix thoroughly. When ready to cook, cut the gator tail meat into 1/2-inch cubes. Sprinkle each cube with the seasoning mix. Cook over high heat on an outdoor barbecue grill or under the oven broiler for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the gator tail meat is white and firm to the touch. Serve warm with lemon wedges. Serves 4 to 8.

Broiled Alligator Jowl With Lemon Butter Sauce

Ingredients:

2 pounds alligator jowl (or tail), cut in thin slices

1/4 pound butter or margarine

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Cayenne pepper to taste

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Directions:

Over low heat in a small saucepan, melt the margarine or butter, and stir in the remaining ingredients except for the gator meat. Heat through, but don’t let it boil. Lay alligator slices on a flat broiler pan, and place about 6 inches from the heating element. Broil for 10 to 15 minutes or until done. Remove the pan from the oven, and brush the top of the meat with the sauce, making sure to coat the entire surface. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Alligator Chili

Ingredients:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3 pounds alligator meat, diced

2 cups diced onion

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced bell pepper

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons diced jalapenos

1 (16-ounce) can pinto beans

3 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

1 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the alligator, and saute 20 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic and jalapenos. Saute until the vegetables are wilted, approximately three to five minutes.

Add the pinto beans, tomato sauce and chicken broth. Bring to a low boil, and reduce to simmer. Add the chili powder and cumin, stir well into the mixture, and allow to cook one hour, stirring occasionally.

When the alligator meat is tender, season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve with crackers or Fritos on the side, or spoon over cooked spaghetti. Serves 6 to 8.

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