Recently someone asked me if I had a good recipe for gator chowder. I thought to myself, “I have been cooking for years and never put those two words together.” Then a big old light bulb went off. I told them that I didn’t, but I would try to develop one.
First I had to decide if it would be tomato-based (Manhattan style, in the parlance of clam chowders) or cream-based (New England style). I went with the cream. I mean, c’mon — cream is a chef’s best friend.
The alligator meat I used came from a local market, but before that it lived in Louisiana. I looked for some Florida gator from the processors in Okeechobee, but it wasn’t available. Naturally, those of you who hunt gators (or have good friends who do) will probably be able to locally source your protein.
While at the market, I asked the deli if they could cut me one slice of prosciutto that was about an eighth-inch thick. The deli attendant looked up at me when I said that with a puzzled look on her face. I’m pretty sure she was used to shaving that stuff as thin as possible.
I was standing there wearing my chef’s jacket, so I guess she felt comfortable asking me what was I going to do with it. I told her I was going to dice it up and throw it into a pot with the gator meat I was holding in my hand. I think I saw a light bulb turn on in her head too.
Now I’m standing in my kitchen at home, cooking this recipe and writing at the same time. At this point, it’s just about done and my kitchen smells to me like a mix of chicken pot pie and clam chowder.
I think the gator is what I’m smelling. I didn’t use any clam juice it this chowder. I put chicken stock in it instead. If you wanted a different taste, you could try clam juice, or maybe a mix of both clam and chicken bases.
For adding flavor, Everglades All Purpose Seasoning was the first thing that came to mind. I got my phone out and looked at my notes of my spice cabinet at home and saw that I already had some on hand, so I saved some money by not buying more. If you read my last column, you might recall me suggesting taking inventory of your home kitchen.
In developing the rest of this recipe, I used a combination of my chicken pot pie and clam chowder recipes. I knew corn was going in it, along with potatoes, garlic and some fresh thyme. I added a couple other things too. You will see them listed in the recipe.
I am thankful for the person who reached out to me and put this idea in my head. I’m sure there are several recipes out there for gator chowder; however, I’d never heard of one.
Lauren has been gone almost two months now and I still miss her so, but I know she’s looking out for me because God keeps opening new doors for me every day. She left notes all over our house that I know she placed them in places that I’d find after she was gone. I found one that said, “Because nice matters.” That has stuck with me and has changed how I feel or react things. I noticed that if I just keep thinking about that note, it doesn’t seem like I’m ever really mad anymore.
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.
1 pound raw gator meat
1/2 cup diced prosciutto
2 cups diced red potato
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
1 15-ounce can sweet corn
1 tbsp fresh chopped garlic
1 tbsp Everglades All Purpose seasoning
1 pint heavy cream
2 cups water
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp kosher salt
Dice gator meat into half-inch pieces. On medium heat, sauté the potatoes, celery, carrots, onions and prosciutto until the onion are translucent. Add the gator meat, corn, garlic and Everglades seasoning; sauté for 2 minutes. Add the water and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cream and simmer for about 30 minutes. Finally, add the thyme and salt, stir through and serve. Serves 4.
— Recipe by Chef Tim Spain, ChefTimSpain.com