A Bite Inspired by… La Chua Trail in Gainesville, Florida:
Sometimes, true inspiration can be found off the beaten path and in the places we least expect. When I traveled to Gainesville, Florida a few months ago, I didn’t necessarily have high hopes for an inspiring trip. To my pleasant surprise, the La Chua Trail in Gainesville offered me some of the best travel inspiration I’ve had in a while. Hidden gems are everywhere, you guys! We just have to be open to finding them. And when we are, delicious recipes like Crispy “Faux Alligator” Fish Bites are born!
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A few months ago, my parents and I traveled to Gainesville, Florida to visit a family friend. I have to admit; I wasn’t terribly excited about this trip. I mean, what’s in Gainesville? Besides, the University of Florida, of course. I had no idea what to expect.
I would like to publically apologize to all Gainesvillians Gainesvillers the people of Gainesville because I was totally wrong. Gainesville is not boring AT ALL. You guys have some really awesome stuff going on. Namely, La Chua Trail. Now, La Chua Trail is a little off the beaten path and kind of hard to find, but when you DO finally find it, it’s worth everything.
La Chua Trail is a beautiful 3 mile path that descends into the center of a prairie marsh and wetlands. There’s a ton of wildlife to be found on this trail, including alligators, cranes, horses, and bison. Watch your step!
The views of the prairie and wetlands on La Chua are absolutely breathtaking! Don’t believe me? See for yourself…
And, just look at that gorgeous sun setting over the prairie. Pretty spectacular, huh?
And remember that thing about how there’s wildlife free roaming on the trail? Guys, I SAW AN ALLIGATOR! Up close. In real life. Now, this may not be super exciting for a Floridian, but as someone coming from up north, it made the whole trip for me!
My newest recipe is inspired by this guy. Isn’t he cute? Err.. terrifying. Or cute? Ugh, I can’t decide. Actually, wait I can. He’s terrifying.
Either way, finding him on the La Chua Trail really was incredibly inspiring for me. I’d never actually seen an alligator up close before and, terrifying aside, there was definitely something beautiful about him.
This recipe has a dual inspiration for it. First, for those of you who have never been 10 feet away from a giant, dangerous reptile before, I wanted to create a dish that would invoke some of the same feelings I had when I first saw him: excited and scared, at the same time. It’s that feeling you get when you stumble on something rare/beautiful and then realize 10 seconds later that it could kill you. Not sure how relatable that feeling is for most of you, but I definitely felt it.
My Crispy “Faux Alligator” Fish Bites are super crunchy when you first bite into them for that kick of excitement. After that, you get a slight heat from hot sauce for that bit of fear that creeps up on you. My whole running-into-an-alligator-experience in one crispy, flavorful bite! Now you can get that same rush of adrenaline in the comfort of your own home. You’re welcome, guys! 😉
My second inspiration for this recipe is Fried Alligator Bites! Hands up, if you’ve had them before! 🙋🏻 If you haven’t, the name pretty much says it all. They’re pieces of actual alligator meat, battered and fried. They’re usually bathed in a combination of buttermilk and hot sauce first and then coated in either cornmeal, flour, or both. I did have an opportunity to try them once, but I have to admit that I did chicken out. Kind of embarassing… I do wish I had tasted them. Maybe next time.
Anyway, in case you weren’t in the mood to ask your local grocer if he’s stocking alligator meat today, my Crispy “Faux Alligator” Fish Bites use the same basic ingredients that most alligator bite recipes do, but I used cod fish instead. It seemed sort of mean for me to create a recipe encouraging the consumption of alligator inspired by an alligator anyway, right?
I actually came up with this fried fish recipe a long time ago and have been making it for years. The only change I made was adding hot sauce to the buttermilk. I used Cholula Hot Sauce because it’s my fave. Amazing how one ingredient can magically turn regular old fish bites into “Faux Alligator” Fish Bites, but there we have it! Also, how pretty does this buttermilk with the hot sauce added to it look?
My Crispy “Faux Alligator” Fish Bites are perfectly crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. They’re everything you could ever want from fried fish. It’s all about the combos, guys! The combo of cornmeal and flour makes the fish extra crispy, while the combo of buttermilk and hot sauce adds a nice layer of flavor. These bites are perfect as a meal or an appetizer. Feel free to double to recipe for company– they’re addicting!
This all just goes to show that you really can find inspiration off the beaten path, in the least likely of places, and from things that kind of scare you a little. If I had known that my little trip to Gainesville, Florida would be so inspiring, I would have gone there a lot sooner. Even if you never make it out to Gainesville (and, let’s face it, most of us won’t), I hope that when you bite into these Crispy “Faux Alligator” Fish Bites, you feel, even just for one second, like you’re there on La Chua Trail, watching that gorgeous sun go down with an alligator by your side. ❤️ But, not too close. Obviously. Y.I.K.E.S.
P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about La Chua Trail, you can find more info here. If you’re ever near Gainesville, I highly encourage that you check it out!
- 1 lb cod, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 cup buttermilk
- ½ cup hot sauce
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- Cooking oil
- Salt and pepper
- Ranch dressing or mayonnaise, for dipping (optional)
- Extra hot sauce, for dipping (optional)
- Scallions, for garnish (optional)
- Pour buttermilk into a medium-sized bowl. Add hot sauce to the buttermilk and stir well to combine.
- Mix cornmeal and flour together in a bowl or plate.
- Season cod fish pieces with a generous amount of salt and pepper.
- Take out a large empty plate and place it near the other bowls and plates. This will be the plate that you put your coated pieces of fish on.
- Take one piece of fish and dip it into the buttermilk/hot sauce mixture. Let excess drip off and then place into cornmeal/flour mixture. Coat entire piece of fish in cornmeal/flour. Shake off excess then place onto the new plate.
- Repeat step 4 with remaining pieces of fish until they are all coated.
- Add one inch of oil (enough to completely cover each piece of fish) into a large, deep pan.
- Heat oil on medium-high heat until very hot and starting to sizzle.
- Carefully drop fish pieces into the hot oil in an even layer. Fry for 3-5 minutes until fish is crispy on the outside and cooked through.
- Line a clean, large plate with paper towels. Carefully remove fish from the pan with a strainer and place on paper towels to drain.
- Serve hot with ranch/mayo and extra hot sauce on the side for dipping. Garnish with scallions, if desired. Enjoy!
Pro tip: my dad likes to mix the ranch dressing and hot sauce TOGETHER to dip his fish in. This is an ingenious idea, if you ask me. Feel free to steal it!