Louisiana Alligator Elegance

Chef Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace in New Orleans layers Creole tradition with creativity as he explores cooking the American alligator. "Personally, I love it! If it's fresh and done right, it can be an amazing main ingredient."

Alligator has sometimes been served as a novelty dish in southern restaurants but McPhail said, "I just don't think that's giving the alligator a fair shake." He says it's quite tasty and one of the healthiest meats on the market.

The challenge is that diners are just not familiar with the ingredient. To introduce them properly, McPhail first acquires only fresh rather than frozen meat. He then prepares the best cut, the tail or the loin. "The tail or the loin is very lean and lightly flavored. At Commander's we prepare ours to highlight that flavor."

He offers diners a tasting menu: a seven course seafood dinner, alligator being one course. McPhail prepares Alligator Baby Back Ribs cooked on a hickory grill with a light sauce or a variation on a Creole favorite-Grits and Alligator Grillades. Inviting readers to be adventuresome too, chef shared his recipe here.

Grits And Alligator Grillades

1 cup old fashioned grits, uncooked

31/2 cups milk

11/2 pounds alligator meat, cut into 1/3-inch slices

11/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

11/2 teaspoons Creole seasoning

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup onions, thinly sliced

1 cup green bell peppers, thinly sliced

1 cup button mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/2 cup leeks, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon tomato paste

1 cup dry red wine

1 cup veal or beef stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare grits according to directions on box using milk instead of water.

Pound meat with mallet (between sheets of plastic wrap). In bowl, stir 11/2 cups flour and Creole seasoning. Dredge alligator in mix and shake off.

Heat oil over medium high heat. Add alligator slowly and sear 1 minute on each side. Transfer the meat to a platter.

In same pan, cook 2 Tbsp. flour, whisking constantly, until peanut butter colored. Add onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, leeks and garlic and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir constantly for 2 minutes.

Add wine and boil until liquid is reduced by half. Gradually whisk in the stock and bring to a simmer. Skim off any foam and cook for 5 minutes. Return alligator to skillet and warm. Serve immediately over hot grits. Serves 4

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