A family tradition and summer ritual for me is catching grenouilles, or frogs, a pastime I enjoyed with my brothers every summer of our youth. We used to catch crawfish as well as frogs in the ponds and little streams near our home in Bourg-en-Bresse or in nearby Neyron. To catch crawfish, we tied together pieces of wood, creating a bundle two to three feet around and nearly the width of the little brook. We would stick pieces of meat and fish, eggshells–anything edible–into the wood and leave it there for a day or so, then lift the whole wood bundle out of the water and put it on the grass bank. When we opened it up and spread it out, we would find a dozen or so crawfish that had crawled through the wood pieces to retrieve edible bits and remained there. My mother would cook these in a very flavorful and highly peppered vegetable stock, and we would eat them with melted butter or mayonnaise and bread.
The frogs were the prize catch. The classic way of capturing them was with a string tied to a wooden pole. At the end of the string, we attached a little piece of red cloth. Frogs love the color red, and would clamp their mouths onto it. Then, with a flick of the wrist, we tried to make the frog jump out of the pond, or botasse, which had edges lined with water lilies and long reeds, perfect as a hiding place for frogs. We would get a few frogs this way, but eventually we devised a better method that we still use. We go out at night with a flashlight and a little net, and shine the light at the frog, getting as close to it as we can. Somewhat hypnotized by the light, the frog doesn’t move. We clamp the net down over it, and then carefully remove it from the net.
When Claudine was very young and spent summers in France with her cousins, she learned to love the plump, juicy, and tender frog legs that she called “les petites cuisses,” or “tiny legs.” She requested them each time we went to a small bistro or country inn in the Lyon area.
I have many frogs in my pond, but I have to fight the rest of nature to get them. Whether it is an egret, a heron, a hawk, or a raccoon, something seems to consume a great many of our frogs. Even though we have thousands of tadpoles in our little pond each spring, the frog population declines through the summer because of competition with nature. Yet we still get enough frogs once or twice a year to keep the tradition alive.
I do not enjoy killing animals, but I know how to kill a frog well and fast. Grab it by its back legs and bang its head a couple of times on a nearby rock. This kills the frog instantly. If you don’t plan to catch your own frogs for this dish, you can find fresh or frozen frog legs at many fish markets and specialty stores, and they can also be purchased from online sources. Note that the yield for this recipe is for only one portion, which is often the case when I go hunting for frogs, as I usually end up with enough for one or two servings at most. Yet, if buying frogs for this dish, you can always extend the recipe to serve as many guests as you like.
Frogs are not served at a formal dinner; they are the ultimate finger food and a treat at home in summer or in the little bistros of the Lyon area, where grenouilles persillade is always featured on summer menus. There are many ways to prepare frog legs. Sometimes they are sautéed and garnished with stewed tomatoes, and in Bourg-en-Bresse they are poached in white wine and shallots and finished with tarragon and cream. Yet the classic way to serve frog legs is with a persillade, a combination of parsley and garlic.
To dress a frog, cut the skin down the back, and insert a finger of each hand under the skin. Pull in opposite directions until the skin slides off. Remove the guts, and using scissors, cut off the head and the feet. Discard the skin, head, and feet. Wash the legs well under cold water, and dry with paper towels.
- 1 dozen frog legs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Flour, preferably Wondra
- Peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons parsley, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon sweet butter
- A dash of lemon juice
Sprinkle the frog legs with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and dip them in flour, preferably an instant variety, like Wondra, which gives a light coating and a nice crust. Heat about 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil in a skillet, preferably nonstick, and cook the frog legs for 2½ to 3 minutes on each side, until they are beautifully golden and lightly crusted. The flesh should remain moist and firm. Finish the dish with the garlic and the parsley, and stir in the butter. Add a dash of lemon juice and serve.