Nigel Spence: Jamaica’s New Croc Pot

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - May 21, 2015

By Nigel Spence
CJ Contributor

As a Professional Chef, usually when anyone mentions the word “crockpot” to me, I immediately envision a big saucepan with a timer and electrical cord –  a pot used to simmer sauces, soups and meat dishes over long periods of cooking time to enhance flavor and tenderness – often times referred to as a “slow cooker”.

Well, under normal circumstances, I would have been correct in assuming we were referring to the same but in this particular instance, I was DEAD wrong.

The new “Croc” pot in this case is not in any way, shape or form a slow cooker to be plugged in.

Instead, it’s the new specialty meat being slow cooked and sold at secret, crocodile-eating parties (“Croc Wednesdays”) held weekly in a rural area of Jamaica.

The meat, derived from the tail of the crocodile, may be barbecued, curried, jerked or put in soups. Due to the illegality of poaching crocodiles and to be caught with any of its parts, the business operates mostly underground.  However, the whole secrecy of the operation has created an even higher demand for the delicacy and has some wealthy, private buyers willing to pay as much as $35 per pound for it.

So what is it with this particular meat that is causing such a stir?

From a nutritional standpoint, research finds that the crocodile meat has little or no saturated fat or cholesterol and is healthier than meats from domesticated animals reared for eating. It also contains a wealth of amino acids, essential for sustenance and growth and is very high in potassium and magnesium – components to help lower blood pressure.  One example even states that one pound of crocodile meat is equivalent to two pounds of chicken meat as far as protein and calorie content is concerned. Yet knowing my Jamaican people as I think I do, I was not about to believe the rush was on for this delicacy simply because of its nutritional elements or because it tasted like chicken (according to some).

First of all, most people I know would cringe at the sight of a crocodile, much less want to eat it.  So what was really the catch of the day here?

Well, I didn’t have to look too far to get the real picture.

Apart from the obvious quick cash it was raking in, there was another very important benefit to eating the illicit spoils it seems.  This man (a chef) who has had a lot of experience preparing the dish, when asked what was the most outstanding quality of the meat – his answer was not in reference to taste or nutritional value.  Instead it was clearly put in true Jamaican reference: “It come in like Viagra because when me eat it, it mek me stand up.”

What I found equally amusing is that our chef, whose culinary qualifications stemmed from previously working in the hotel industry, admits sharing his mastered cuisine with his friends among whom were police officers, lawyers and doctors (lol).  (Remember the business of crocodile poaching is illegal as the reptiles are a protected species).

From my standpoint as a veteran chef, coupled with my thirsting desire to seek out new and interesting foods, I can’t say I am not more than a bit intrigued to taste the jerked crocodile, but somehow the price that the shy reptiles have to pay, from barbaric slaughtering or being left tail-less to die is more than I could chew;  reminds me of a similar experience I had in a different country involving 75 year old turtles but that’s a whole ‘nodda story.

Instead of a recipe for crocodile which may be construed as supporting the illegal practice in Jamaica, I prefer to leave you with a wonderful new and healthy way of using that crockpot you have stowed away in the deep dark corner of your pantry. It’s a dish that will also “mek yu stand up” and clap your hands in ecstasy – it is that good! Rest assured though, no tails were severed in preparation…enjoy!

Since these crockpots vary so much in size, shape and power, I will give you the basic requirements for the recipe and the rest is based on your particular gizmo using a little experimentation and practice on your end.

The Healthiest Steamed Fish Ever

A Crockpot set to its highest setting

2 Snapper fillets, about 6oz each

Handful of thyme

Bunch of Scallions

2 fingers of ginger, sliced into rounds

10 okra, whole

1/4 of a fresh Scotch bonnet pepper, deseeded

1 tablespoon Coconut oil (can be omitted)

Salt & Pepper

Juice of 1/2 of fresh Lime

4 Garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 whole Tomato, rough chopped

Rub coconut oil all over the fish fillets and put any leftover in the bottom of the crockpot.

Season fish fillets liberally with salt and pepper and set aside.

Put all the vegetables in the bottom of the pot creating a bed for the fish fillets. Put the thyme, garlic and ginger last so that it makes direct contact with the fish. Save a small bit of all the veggies and herbs to put ON TOP of the fish also. The whole idea here is allow as much of the aromatic herbs to infuse the flesh of the fish as it “steams”. It may seem counterintuitive that there is not much liquid involved in this steaming method but this is to preserve all the nutrients and natural flavors of the fish and vegetables. The vegetables will release liquid and slowly steam the protein.

So, place fish fillets on top of the bed of vegetables then put the rest (of the veggies) on top of the fish. Squeeze lime over the top of it all. Cover and let the slow cooker do its job.

If your slow cooker was pre-heated to full heating capacity, this dish should cook in 12-20 minutes depending on the power of the unit.

Remove the fish to a plate and top with the steamed okra and tomatoes and any liquid from the bottom of the pan.

This technique can be modified to re-use already cooked rice that you may have lying around in your fridge. It’s a great way to re-warm rice without using the questionable microwave. Simply lay out the cold rice at the base of the cooker before adding the bed of vegetables, then continue with the rest of the recipe as stated above.

P.S. A crockpot is a great way to cook tougher cuts of meat including humanely grown and slaughtered alligator tail, sourced from an alligator farm, except that it would require a few hours of cooking and some liquid in the pot.

Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for three years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cookoffs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show, Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.

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