Joyeux Epiphany, mes Cheres! Yes, in the Big Easy we simply roll from Christmas to New Years to Mardi Gras. Well, not simply…we interpose a pivot-holiday, of course: Epiphany or Three Kings Day. Similarly, for Twelfth Night of Christmas, the Eve of Epiphany, we shouldn’t have a simple meal. Bring in Alligator Soup, complete with bead-borne, second-lining Mardi Gras ‘gators inexplicably celebrating these deeply-flavored, sherry-laden bowls. Allons-y, aux coquerie.
Now, do not be off-put from this recipe if alligator meat isn’t available to you locally, as is this one sliding down the bayou behind our slip in Bayou Castine. While I haven’t tried it yet, I suspect this recipe might be good with venison, veal, or even dark meat chicken (and infinitely easier…a lot of the work was in dicing the alligator).
And no, I didn’t have to “dice” the entire critter from the bayou…we too go pre-processed sometimes! If you have the option, get your ‘gator (or venison or veal) ground and skip the entire dicing process. (Dark meat chicken, like thigh meat, you will probably want to roast and shred to get as deep a flavor as you can; in which case, having already more or less cooked it, add the meat toward the end of the hour’s simmer rather than before.) Alligator meat is textured a bit like shark meat–very fibrous and chewy–but with a slightly gamey flavor. Whatever meat you choose, you will need about 2-1/2 pounds.
You will also need four cups of shrimp stock. You could probably substitute fish/seafood stock from the grocery store shelf, but why would you do that and miss a chance to figure out how to use a pound of big, gorgeous Gulf shrimp? Yes, this is the smallest my fishmonger had.
To the heads and shells from a pound of shrimp, add a bay leaf, some onion and celery, a few peppercorns, and five or six cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Strain the stock and you should have about four cups. If you’re more than three miles offshore, dump the solids overboard; if not, have someone take them to the dumpster or bag them and throw them in the dinghy immediately!
While the stock is boiling, if your meat isn’t ground, dice or shred it very finely.
Season the meat with just about everything in your spice rack! Herewith: a tablespoon of sea salt, teaspoon of black pepper, two teaspoons of smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin.
Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over high heat and sear the alligator, stirring until it all has browned.
Time for the Holy Trinity of Louisiana cooking: two diced onions, two diced stalks of celery, and a diced green bell pepper.
Add the trinity plus four minced cloves of garlic to the alligator meat and cook slowly over medium heat until the vegetables start to wilt. Then add two bay leaves and sprinkle 1/2 cup of flour over the meat, stirring well to be sure it is fully incorporated and without lumps.
Gradually add your liquids, stirring well to dissolve the flour: four cups shrimp stock, two cups veal or beef stock, one cup red wine, and one cup dry sherry.
Add a can of crushed tomatoes and a handful of fresh herbs: leaves from a sprig of thyme, two sprigs of oregano, and two sprigs of basil, chopped. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for an hour or so.
While the soup is simmering, zest one large or two smaller lemons, mince three hard-boiled eggs, and chop the leaves of a large bunch of parsley.
After an hour, add the parsley, egg, lemon zest, and juice of the lemons and stir well. Check the seasoning, adding salt, pepper, and Tabasco to taste.
Serve steaming hot, garnished with herbs and an extra shot of sherry, if desired. Oh, and a fistful of good French bread. And laissez les bons temps rouler!
Text message from a frustrated reader ; )