June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:04 PM
"No offense to our neighbors in the south, but they do seem to have a different approach to many things. Take chicken farming, for instance.Most of the time, I prefer not to dwell upon the unpleasant aspects of meat, fish or fowl production and processing. At best, it's an ugly scene that could put you off your feed entirely and certainly turn you to vegetarianism. However, I recently read this article about chicken farming and the incredible solution some farmers in the south have discovered to a problem I'd not even been aware of, and I have to admit that I found their innovative approach fascinating. Stay with me on this one; you won't believe it.OK: You're a chicken farmer, raising chickens destined for the supermarkets of the land. However, approximately 5 to 6 percent of your chickens die prematurely of natural causes (chickens are apparently prone to many fowl ailments) and you then have to dispose of the dead ones, quickly. But, state regulations have made it both difficult and costly to get rid of the dead ones, which by law must be disposed of immediately either by burial or incineration. You can't save up your dead chickens until you have a full truckload to take to an incinerator or to a mass grave somewhere, and it's not feasible to try to pool your dead chickens, so to speak, with other chicken farmers until you have enough for a truckload. And, by the way, the truck must be leakproof and driven by someone licensed to transport dead livestock. (Feeling queasy yet?) So now you understand the problem; can you even guess what southern chicken farmers came up with as the solution?Alligators! That's what I said, alligators! Alligators love chicken, dead or otherwise, and guess what? Alligator meat wholesales for about $6 a pound and an alligator hide can bring $80 to $100. Oh, you thought alligator shoes, bags, belts and wallets went out long ago? Not so; they're still very popular, both here and abroad. Now, if you're a chicken farmer living in the south, where alligator farming has long been a thriving industry, it seems almost a natural to think about branching out into the alligator business. Sure, it's a lot more dangerous than raising dumb chickens, but once you get the hang of handling 'gators, it sure makes easy work of getting rid of dead chickens. And alligators, it seems, are much hardier than chickens, so you don't have a corresponding alligator disposal problem.One farmer mentioned in the article I read had 500,000 chickens and 10,000 alligators (which I am unable even to comprehend), and he was referred to as a minor player in the industry. I did find myself wondering what he'd feed his alligators if the chickens didn't die off as expected (do alligators like cat or dog, which could remedy the problem of overcrowding in animal shelters?), and also how he handled the excrement disposal problem, but I think I was running a fever at the time and decided not to pursue that avenue of thought. I'm told that alligator meat is popular in the south and becoming more so in other parts of the country. It's advertised as a lean, healthy alternative to beef and pork and many upscale restaurants in the south now feature alligator on their menus. Should you be interested, fresh alligator meat may be ordered from an establishment called The Boiling Pot in Sulphur, LA.; phone 318-625-9282. As of right now, I know of no place on the Island where you can get alligator, fresh or otherwise.Oh, the taste? Well, alligator tastes a lot like......chicken. Now we know why.RecipesBy now you may have decided to give up chicken forever, in which case alligator may be a healthy alternative. Here are a couple of recipes I requested from southern chefs, and when my fresh alligator arrives, I intend to try them. If you choose not to use 'gator, substitute meat of choice. (Note: Every alligator recipe I have indicates that some pre-cooking or marinating is necessary to ensure tenderness.)Alligator Chili1 lb. alligator meat (trimmed of any fat, if necessary)2 T. vegetable oil1 large onion, chopped2-3 cloves garlic, minced1 large bell pepper, chopped1 can (10 oz.) tomatoes with chilies, blended (available in Hispanic foods section)1 can (16 oz.) pinto beans1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste1 t. ground cumin1 jalapeno pepper, chopped1 cup red wine (preferably Merlot)6 bottles cold beer of choiceSalt and pepper to taste1. Set aside 1 cup of red wine. (Drink the rest if you prefer it to beer). Cut the alligator meat into small chunks. In a Dutch oven, boil the diced meat for 20 minutes in water seasoned with salt and pepper. Drain and set aside.2. In the same pot, add the oil, onion, bell pepper and garlic; sauté until onions are tender. Add pinto beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, cumin and jalapeno. Cook on medium-low heat for 40 minutes. Add alligator meat and cook on low heat for 3 hours. Add the wine the last 30 minutes. Serve with green salad and hot French bread. (The 6 bottles of beer are for drinking while the chili cooks, in case you're thinking I forgot something.)'Gator Kabobs1 lb. tenderized alligator tail meat (tenderize by pounding or marinating for 2-3 hours first)2 green bell peppers2 sweet onions1 lb. flour1 can beerCajun spice (available in spice section in several mixtures, from mild to tongue-searing)1. Cut the alligator, bell pepper and onions into 2-inch pieces. Thread them onto 10-inch wooden skewers, alternating pieces, with 3 of each per skewer. Kabobs should be about 6-7 inches long. Allow kabobs to chill in refrigerator for about an hour.2. Pour beer into a bowl and beat until it's flat. Mix in flour and blend in Cajun spices according to taste. Batter should be thick enough to coat the kabobs about 1/4-inch thick. Deep fry kabobs in about 3 inches of peanut oil at about 375 degrees, frying 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with honey mustard or Creole Sauce (look for it in specialty foods section).You can get additional alligator recipes from the Everglades Alligator Farm by contacting Gatorfarmr@aol.com; tell them I sent you. "