In a while, crocodile.

From M.G., 15 July 2011, Crocodile. Enough said.

Q: I was at the Adelaide Central Market today, buying a roast of wild goat, and I saw they had crocodile for sale. It is not a meat I have ever tried. Can you give any advice.

A: Thank you for your question – uh, I think. I’m beginning to think some of you are having a go at me with these questions.

I’ve never eaten crocodile, although I have tried its cousin, the alligator, and not particularly cared for it. It reminded me mostly of overcooked pork loin chops – tough, and though mild in flavor, with something slightly off. If I had to compare alligator to anything, it would be dry pork loin, with a little hint of something slightly muddy, like maybe catfish. But not much – in fact, I’d say alligator’s most resonant quality is its lack of any distinctive features. Dave Arnold’s experience was the same as mine, namely “generic fried stuff.” By the way, you should read his incredible piece from last summer about cooking up odd meats en sous vide (or, in the case of the beaver flapper, fried like chicharrón). It is one of the greatest things I’ve ever read and you won’t regret the fifteen minutes spent. Long story short, beaver and yak are delicious (and I can attest to the yak – we bought some at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis a few years ago and it was incredible). Bear is kind of gross and raccoon is worse. Judging from the steady diet of garbage our neighborhood raccoons ate when I was a kid in Wisconsin, I’m really not surprised.

A couple of weekends ago, while we were in Milwaukee for our July 4 holiday weekend, my husband and I were flipping channels on the hotel television when we came across the Man vs Food show on Food Network. For those of you who don’t know, Man vs Food is a triumph of American gluttony – the host, Adam Richman, visits various American cities, partly to sample local specialities, but mostly to take on various consumption-based challenges. Hottest chile pepper in New Mexico? Biggest chicken fried steak in Texas? You get the idea. In any case, the episode in question involved a visit to Tampa, Florida where another competition hopeful obtains Richman’s advice and counsel regarding a plate of ten incendiary hot wings. On the way, Richman enjoys a platter of the local speciality, barbecued alligator ribs. Rubbed with spices, smoked slowly over wood, and mopped with sauce, they tasted, according to Richman, not unlike pork ribs.

Some years earlier, Calvin Trillin described a meal of alligator tail near Crescent City, Florida in his 1983 essay collection, Third Helpings. After a brief primer on alligator fabrication (“They don’t just take a whole alligator tail and serve it like that…They cut out the muscle-“), Trillin sampled the tail, thinly sliced, pounded, and breaded before frying. He compared it to veal scallopini. An earlier encounter, however, more closely resembled my experience with the gator – “I found it rather, well, muscular,” he reports. Ditto that, my friend.

Since the scallopine-type preparation appears to be the most accessible and successful, perhaps you can give that a try. You will need a tail cut, which should resemble pork loin – bigger, perhaps, but round in its cross-section cut, and long.

Slice it thinly against the grain (straight up and down, not at an angle) into medallions about 1/2″ thick or a little less. Why against the grain? You want to cut the meat’s fibers into the shortest pieces possible, so the cooked product requires less chewing. Sorry to be gross.

Place the medallions between sheets of clingfilm and pound to a uniform thinness, just under 1/4″. Season with salt and pepper and fry in a hot pan filmed with oil. Remove from the pan when cooked through on both sides; deglaze the pan with about 1/4 c dry white wine and add 1 tbsp rinsed capers. Garnish with a handful of snipped parsley.

If you prefer something closer to schnitzel, bread the pounded and seasoned medallions conventionally – first dip in flour, shake off excess; dip in egg wash, shake off excess; and then dip in breadcrumbs (panko are nice), shake off excess, and fry in a hot pan in about 1/8″ oil. Serve with lemon wedges and a handful of snipped parsley.

If you encounter crocodile ribs at the market, let me know, and we’ll talk about how to barbecue those ribs. I don’t expect that you will.

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