One of the most common questions asked about Florida when Visit Natural North Florida’s volunteers are asked when making presentations around the U.S. and Europe is “Do you have alligators?” And according to Capt. Russ McCallister, whose travels along the Suwannee and other rivers as guide for Suwannee Guides & Outfitters, the answer is “Yes, we have water and that means we have alligators!”
But some gators are wild, and others–farm raised–are meant for dinner. And there’s no better place to try them at Byron Terwilligar’s Blue Water Bay restaurant on SR26 in “downtown” Melrose, just east of Gainesville.
Chef Byron and I agree on several things. One, when someone says that wild-harvested alligator tastes “gamey” what he or she really means is “muddy”. Simply put, they are what they eat. And two, they’re delicious if properly and carefully prepared.
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 small animals, usually 2-1/2 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
1/2-cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
3 bay leaves
1 tbs. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2-cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs. 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)
A trip to Blue Water Bay is always worth the short drive from Gainesville, and even if you don’t order gator, there are plenty of other menu selections. And don’t forget the weekend buffets—the selection of food is amazing and you’ll find something to please even the pickiest eater!