Samui Wining & Dining
Catch of the Day

Eyes down for the toothsome crocodile


Page-2-3What to say? Well, first of all, anything that moves can be cooked and eaten. It might not sit so easily with Western thinking, but in Thailand and many parts of Asia, grubs and beetles are considered a delicacy. As a food-writer, it’s not easy to admit that I have certain issues with the idea of eating, shall we say, snails. But this makes my point - it’s all in the mind-set. Mine says slimy isn’t nice. But then, philosophically, small wriggly-wiggly things don’t belong in the mouth either, particularly not in my one. And yet fried silkworm grubs are delicious. Grasshoppers are a bit crunchy, though. Where was I?

      Pushing to one side the post-apocalyptic potential of rats and dogs, there are many odd animals that, if not readily found in the frozen meats section of Tesco Lotus, are considered a gourmet delicacy. Emu, for instance. And kangaroo. There’s even a famous restaurant in Australia which specialises in road kill, and has such flattened offerings as Snake ’n Bake, fried possum, Collie Hit by a Trolley, Splat of Cat, raccoon and skunk. They’ve even got a cook-at-home recipe for crushed cockatoo. On one level, it’s Green. It’s conservationist. All you do is scoop it, bag it, and drop it off. But, whacked onto a griddle with onions, peppers and mushrooms, it’s not quite fine dining. Nor is it something you’ll readily find on Samui.

      Ignoring for a moment that this also applies to crocodile soufflé, the main thing is that long scaly things with rows of teeth have been eaten by mankind for millennia. (Or the other way round.) And so, in this month’s ‘Catch of the Day’, we’re taking a look at crocodiles, and what to do with them once they have stopped thrashing about. Plus the general things to look out for when you’re wondering what the difference is between a ’croc, a ’gator and a caiman.

      The first thing to say is that there’s not a huge difference between the three. Well, not to look at, anyway. There’s far more variety in, say, birds or dogs. Two big differences spring to mind; though – crocodiles are found in stagnant water or even saltwater environments, whereas alligators go for fresh water. Visually, the main difference is in the snout, with crocodiles having a nasty narrow nose that’s evolved for gripping and biting. The croc is much more aggressive than its cousins and, even with its mouth closed, the teeth are still visible, unlike the other varieties. The alligator’s head is altogether broader, with a wide jaw that’s just perfect for crunching turtle shells, arms, legs and so on. And ’crocs are lighter in colour too, an olive or a brown colouring, whereas ’gators are much darker, veering towards almost black.

      And the caiman? This is where we get to the technical bit. All three are Crocodilians and are in the order ‘Crocodylia’. This order has three families: Alligatoridae, Crocodylidae, and Gavialidae. Alligators and caimans are in the alligator family; crocodiles are in the crocodile family. Alligators are found in North America and the caiman is found in Central and South America. But crocodiles are additionally found in Africa, Australia, throughout Asia and Indonesia, Jamaica and Central America, and both crocodiles and alligators are found side-by-side in the semi-tropical southern regions of North America. Surprisingly, the order of Crocodylia has now become almost extinct. Of the 39 sub-families of the species, today a total of only 11 still remain, with four of these being officially declared an endangered species.

      So what’s the best way to eat them then, I hear you ask. Avoiding the Groucho-style reply, “with caution”, I’ll move quickly on to say that there’s actually not a great deal of prime meat on a crocodile. The flavour has been compared to that of chicken (hasn’t everything!) but in fact crocodile, in the same way as turkey, has red and white meat that varies in flavour and texture. The white meat is mild and more tender, but there’s less of it. Out of a croc weighing 100 lbs, 50 of these will be the skin, and of the remainder only 10 lbs will be prime white meat. Unlike other alternative meats such as elk or bison (which have to be cooked with a fattier meat included, otherwise they fall apart or dry out) ’croc or ’gator, can be seasoned and marinated and cooked slowly without impairing the texture.

       Over the last few years, there has been a universal move away from supporting the energy-guzzling beef industry, not only in America but all over the world. Alternatives are being actively explored, not simply because of ecological considerations, but for health reasons too. And crocodile has proven itself to be something of a minor star, with the USA alone consuming 1.5 million pounds of it in 2013. It has less calories than lean beef and has virtually no saturated fat – there’s just one gram of fat in a 4-ounce ’croc steak, compared to four times this amount in beef.

      But this is the paradise island of Samui, not somewhere in the Everglades. It’s not so easy to find gumbo and grits with a hunk of barbecued ’gator on the side. Emu, yes, there’s a few places doing this. Kangaroo? Who knows! Elk? Hard to get outside of Wyoming. But for some of the healthier and more tender alternatives, such as fillet of ’croc, you’ll have to scout around a bit if you want to get your teeth into one of these!


Rob De Wet


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