Growing up in Zolfo Springs, I ate my share of deep fried gator tail. It’s good stuff, and I still enjoy it with some Everglades-seasoned cocktail sauce and a cold beer.
On Sundays, I usually go to Fishin’ Frank’s in the mornings, where the usual suspects are gathered another the counter, talking about fishing and often food. This past Sunday I heard my one-legged Georgia Cracker friend Capt. Steve “Pegleg” Phillips talking about the gator gumbo his wife Heather had made him the night before. I thought that sounded good. Then as I got to thinking about it, I realized I’d never heard of gator gumbo before — and I even lived in New Orleans years ago while working in a Cajun restaurant.
Steven told us how good it was, and we took a couple of shots at him asking where our was. He laughed and said he’d bring us some if we wanted. That’s just the way Pegleg is: He’d probably give you just about anything if he thought you could use it or needed it.
The thought of gator being done in a way other than fried was exciting to me. For health reasons, I try to steer clear of fried food as often as I can. Unless it’s fried chicken, which I just can’t bring myself to cut out of my diet (and why would you?).
So back to this idea of gator gumbo, and what else could she have put into her gumbo?Pegleg provided the gator, which he and our friend Jeff had legally harvested just a few nights before. As I write this, I am still wanting a bowl of gator gumbo and think I might have to make some for myself soon.
I just need to get Pegleg to use his other tag to take me hunting and see if we can find the gator that has been lurking around my neighborhood. Several folks have seen it in a few different canals around our house and he looks like he’s at least 7 feet, maybe bigger. But he’s smart — he doesn’t advertise himself often, and so far has evaded the few hunters that have been looking for him.
Any gumbo starts out the same, and the roux is the key thing. It’s what thickens the gumbo and gives it flavor. The Cajuns make a brown roux with oil and flour. This can be dangerous. Any time you start whisking hot oil around in a pot you must be careful not to splash the hot oil on yourself. It hurts and will probably leave a mark.
I suggest making the roux first and setting it aside. You won’t need it until late in the recipe, but it’s not something I would try to make to on the spot because I might burn it — and there’s not fixing burnt roux. Burnt is burnt. I guess if you’re hungry enough you could eat it, but why would you want to do that?
This recipe is written to serve about 15 portions of gumbo, so this is one to share with friends or freeze it smaller portions and pull it out when needed. I suggest doing what Heather did and make some cornbread to go with your gator gumbo, and I’d want a cold beer to go with mine as well.
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 information, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.