Alligator pilau, gopher tortoise stew, swamp cabbage, and coquina broth? St. Augustine's culinary traditions blend a whole host of unusual local ingredients. We've uncovered a collection of old recipes that are colorful, flavorful and downright unique. Updated for the modern chef, Jonathan Millen's A Taste of St. Augustine: Recipes of the Ancient City is available for $5.95 through Old St. Augustine Village (904-823-9722).
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Donax or Coquina Broth
This delicate broth is a gift of the sea. The tiny coquina clams burrow into the sand as the tide washes them ashore during the summer months. Once scooped from the sand, rinse the coquinas and place them in a pot with enough water to cover. Cook over medium heat until shells pop open (usually about 5 minutes). Strain broth and discard shells. Add a little butter and light cream to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley or chives to add color. No quantities are given, as the amounts are determined by the success of the coquina collector.
After 20 years of protection, the alligator has made a remarkable comeback and alligator meat is available again. Since the body meat is too tough, only the tail meat is used. The best way to prepare alligator tail is to slice the meat across the grain into 1/4- to ½-inch strips. While good lightly breaded and fried, try this dish that includes the datil pepper, which gives it some heat.
2lb. alligator tail, sliced or cubed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 bay leaves
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup long grain rice
2 cups chicken stock
½ fresh datil pepper or 1 tsp pepper sauce
½ tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme
Saute alligator meat in a small amount of olive oil until tender, and set aside. In a Dutch oven, cook onions, bell pepper and garlic in remaining oil until soft. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, datil pepper or sauce and seasonings and simmer over low heat for five minutes. Add chicken stock and well-rinsed rice and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the alligator meat, stir well, taste and adjust seasonings. Simmer an additional five minutes to combine flavors.
Gopher Tortoise Stew
Also known as the "Hoover chicken," the gopher tortoise was a staple in the diets of Minorcans, Florida natives, and Depression-era families. The exact composition of Gopher Tortoise Stew depended on what ingredients were available at the time, but this is a typical recipe. Today, the gopher tortoise is a protected species, but you can substitute alligator or pork.