Il pleut, il mouille, c’est la fête à la grenouille. This kids’ song, so popular in France, was one of my favorite growing up. The presence of frogs in songs, fables, nursery rhymes, and expressions shows how this little animal is strongly linked to the French culture, but also the French gastronomy. Isn’t our English nickname “frog-eaters” after all, or its pet names “frogs” or “froggies”?!
In fact, the French may not have been the first ones to eat frogs’ legs. In April 2013, reasearchers from the University of Buckingham found close to the world known prehistoric site Stonehenge, amongst the fish and bovin bones, frog’s bones, 8,000 years old, leading them to believe that the English were first at consuming the batrachian’s legs. Being French, this came as a shock. In France, we have to wait until the XIIth century to note the first apparition of Frogs’ Legs on the menus of medieval banquets. The XVIth century sees the use of this ingredient everywhere in France. The fact that in 1980 frogs became a protected species in France didn’t stop us from savoring their legs. They are now imported mainly from Indonesia and China.
Still, French are by far the biggest eaters of cuisses de grenouilles, 3,000 to 4,000 tons of them being consumed every year in France. Other connoisseurs are Belgium and Luxembourg. Surprisingly, the USA is the second largest importer, especially in the south of the country. The dish is very popular in Arkansas, Texas, and of course Louisana, where it was introduced by French settlers. Rayne, a small town in Louisana, likes to call itself the Frog Capital of the World. Asian countries such as Indonesia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam are of course avid frog eaters, not only the legs but whole.
I have so many childhood memories linked to this little batrachian. Of eating them of course, in family restaurants that would use only locally caught frogs in the Dombes, a swampy countryside near Lyon or with my grandparents in the south of the Burgundy region. Of catching them at night, our front-light tightly on our little heads, following my uncle in the small marsh close to his house. The bright ray of light in the starry night would freeze the frog. Catching them was then easy but we needed to be quick before it jumped and disappeared into the dark water. In other regions of France, people would use a fishing pole with a piece of red cloth at its end. The frog catches the cloth, holding it tight. The person would then quickly pull his pole and throw the frog into a large bag.
They are many ways to cook cuisses de grenouille depending on the country and the region:
- In France, we only eat the legs. We have different recipes.
- The most popular method is à la meunière, dipping the saddles into flour, then adding garlic and frying them in olive oil in a pan for five minutes on each side. You can then add fresh cut parsley and sprinkle with lemon juice. Outstanding!
- The A la parisienne or Paris style is very subtle. The legs are cooked in boiling water, lemon juice, salt and pepper, drained then dipped into eggs and rolled in bread crumbs. The last step is to fry the legs two or three minutes until tender. Divine!
- Grenouilles à la mornay are sauteed frogs’ legs on a bed of mornay sauce, a white cheesy sauce, then sprinkled with cheese and grilled in the oven. Au gratin!
- Frogs’ legs are also used in soups and omelets.
- In the south of the US where they are very popular, frogs’ legs are served breaded and deep fried.
- Did you know that in 1910, Detroit, the largest city in the State of Michigan, produced, shipped and consumed 12 tons of frogs’ legs, six million pairs of legs and saddles. People were crazy for them. They were one of the last vestiges of French cuisine done by the French Canadians. Roadhouse style, rolled in cracker crumbs, and fried in butter, was the most favorite way to serve them. People from all over the country would come to eat them. Frogs were so over-loved that soon, they were gone!
- In Italy, a Zampe di rana fricassé is a stew of legs with dried mushrooms, onions, and garlic served on toast.
- In Asia, frogs are often eaten whole, in soups or stuffed. You also find stuffed or fried frogs’ legs in many restaurants, especially in China and Indonesia. Frogs are bought live in supermarkets in the fish section.
- In Singapore, curried frogs’ legs are a delicacy on some local restaurant menus.
To eat cuisses de grenouille the proper way, you will have to get your hands dirty, or I might say, your fingers. Use your thumb and forefinger as pliers to hold the legs. Don’t forget to use the Rince doigts or finger bowl to clean up your fingers after your feast.
You don’t have to kiss a frog to succumb to the subtle taste of frogs’ legs and its particular texture, between fish and chicken. However, if you didn’t sample it before, this small batrachian might swipe you off your feet…or legs.