Restauranteur Ralph Brennan demystifies fish and shellfish in his New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, with recipes like Barbecue Shrimp; Seafood and Okra Gumbo with Alligator Sausage; Creole Seasoning; and Crab Stock; plus a short excerpt on Alligator, Frog Legs and Turtle.
Note: If alligator meat, frog legs or turtle meat are difficult to find where you live, see Ingredient Sources on page 424 of the book.
Alligators are legal game in Louisiana and some other states. They're harvested for their hides as well as their meat.
Dark meat is found in some parts of the alligator, but virtually all of the meat sold at retail sources is from the tail. The mild, subtle flavor of the white tail meat might be compared to that of chicken or veal.
When preparing the meat for cooking, wash it thoroughly and remove all fat from it to be sure it doesn't carry any gamey tastes. Alligator meat is fairly tough, which usually calls for either longer cooking or tenderizing.
Fresh frog legs and turtle meat are much preferred over frozen for cooking, but their availability is very limited outside of the areas where they're harvested. Internet retailers are one possible source of both fresh and frozen. If you live in a large metropolitan area, look for them in Chinese and other Asian markets.
Sea turtles and tortoises are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, so fresh-water turtles are the only ones lawfully sold for food. Meat from the body and legs is red, while that from the neck is white.
Turtles are caught and processed primarily when demand for their meat exceeds the supply.
Processing is labor-intensive, the meat yield is low, and consumer demand is limited-all of which discourage production. The resulting scarcity has prompted some home cooks to rely on such substitutes as oxtail or veal.
Once fresh alligator meat, frog legs or turtle meat are at home, store them in the coldest spot in your refrigerator and use a thermometer to keep the temperature set below 40°F. (Keeping them iced, as restaurants do, is ideal, but may not be practical for the home kitchen.)
It is best to use them one or two days, at the latest, after they were bought, since you don't know how long they were in the store or market.
This page created April 2008
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