Unusual Proteins: Deep-Fried Asian-style Frog Legs
Take a look at the plate in the picture. Looks pretty harmless, right? Looks like something you would eat, right? Delicious, even? Could be a chicken wing. If chicken wings were really weirdly jointed. Well, that there ain’t no chicken wing, it’s a honey, garlic and chili marinated frog leg, battered in panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried to golden brown perfection…
A dish I quite wisely rebranded as Thai style chicken wings before serving it up to unsuspecting diners, thinking they might not care much for the frog-factor of the truth. But you know what, as it turned out when the truth was revealed, they did care for the frog factor, and as it turns out frog legs really are a pretty delicious little treat, not to mention the perfect topic for our next instalment of the Unusual Proteins series. No, come on now, don’t run! I’m one of the good guys! Hey, listen…
I’m what you would call an adventurous eater, I guess: seal, pig’s feet, cheeks, kangaroo, alligator, sheep’s stomach, bird’s nest, blood and offal, deep-fried Mars bar, eyeballs and more… I’ve been there, and for at least two of them I’m never coming back! Yet, until recently, I had never had frog legs. Not until the day I was walking through my local Asia market, looking for inspiration for a dinner with the girls, thinking: “Hmm, what’s the weirdest thing in here I can cook?” After pondering a package of frozen Durian for a while and giving an immediate pass to cow’s stomach thinking that wouldn’t win me any friends, my eyes settled on a package of frozen frog legs and my curiosity peaked. I had to cook them, I had to somehow get someone other than me to eat them and I had to tell the world about it… Because the world seemingly doesn’t much care for frogs!
Okay, let me rephrase that, much of the world doesn’t care for frogs. If you’re squeamish about eating frog legs, thinking they’re somehow disgusting or unappealing, I offer you these bits of trivia: Not only are an estimated 3.2 billion frogs(!) consumed around the world every year. No, special care and attention is currently taken by environmentalists to shift focus towards sustainable farmed frogs alternatives, as human consumption of wild, edible frogs are starting to seriously deplete populations and threaten certain frog species. Yes, indeed, human gluttony is posing a threat to a so-called invasive species – if that’s not an arguably unfortunate stamp of approval for frog legs, I don’t know what is!
We’ll let that sink in for a while. 3.2 billion frogs. Given that our average frog has two hind legs, that’s nearly one frog leg per person on this planet per year! Now, I’m willing to bet that neither myself nor many of my readers have had their fair share of one frog leg per year throughout their lifetime. So, someone else must be eating them, and they must be eating their fair share! And with pretty good reason, I might add. Frog legs are relatively cheap, they’re abundant and full of stuff that’s supposedly good for you: protein, Omega3 fatty acids, Vitamin A and Potassium (Potassium’s good for you, right?!) … But not only that, they’re also succulent and tender, lean pieces of white meat, that, you guessed it, supposedly taste just like chicken! Heck, at 73 calories per 100 grams of meat, even the Weight Watcher Zealots should love these little nuggets of joy! Yet, very few Westerners do. Why’s that? Well, I’m willing to venture a guess.
Basically, if ever there was something wrong with frog legs (and I’m not saying there is), it’s probably that they came from the hind section of a less than appealing amphibian that to the average eye looks a little, well, gross. And, granted, frogs are rarely pretty but then again, if we’re brutally honest, neither are most industrial chickens neither before nor after slaughter, yet few people have issues with them. So, I say it’s time time we broaden our culinary horizons, embrace the weird and bizarre, try something new for a change, and see if we can’t have a little fun with frog legs! Look, I’ll even teach you how to prepare them and dress them up really pretty-like, so no one will think them strange and disgusting. Who’s with me? Alright, don’t all shout at once! Let’s just f’ing do this thing…
Okay, you got me hooked! Where can I get some frogs legs?
Well, good question that. For starters, do what I did. Try your local Asian market, they may carry frozen, sustainable frogs legs from Indonesian frog farms, or be able to order them with their next delivery. Failing that, try an “ethnic” bazar, a really well-stocked food market or online store specialising in deliveries of frozen speciality foods. Use Google, these places are more common than you think. Regardless of where you find them, you should only expect to be able to get flash frozen frogs legs, and for once – in the curious case of frog legs – that’s probably a good thing! Serious health risks and potential death may arise from consuming amphibians that have been transported either live or unfrozen and un-skinned, so yeah, those skinned, flash frozen varieties seem a pretty fair bet, if you ask me.
What to look for when buying and preparing frog legs
Bearing the above statement in mind, let’s just be absolutely clear here and state that it is very, very unlikely that frog legs that make it all the way to a proper food market and pass local health inspections will actually be bad for you. However, you may still want to be cautious. Not for your sake, but for that of the environment. Poaching of wild frogs is a definite problem in some parts of the world, so try to look for something clearly labeled with information about the product and the producer/breeder. Mother Earth will love you for it.
Now, having made a choice, let’s look at the product we’ve procured. Frog legs usually come in two distinct forms and the package will probably tell you which kind you’re getting, so the package again is worth inspecting. What are the different forms? Well, if you’re really lucky, you’ll get individually sectioned little legs and if so, you can get right along to cooking.
More commonly, though, frog legs are sold in bags of entire hind sections containing the entire, uhh, saddle of the frog, that is two legs kept together at the hips by the pelvic bone with the rest of the animal more or less hastily removed. If you’re really lucky, you’ll even get a little bit of the back bone sticking out for good measure. This latter form has been known to scare picky eaters, but don’t worry, either form will work for our application, one’s just a bit more work.
How to prepare frog legs
Now, first things first, if your frog legs come in pairs of two, don’t panic! It simply means we’ve got some light butchering to do before we can cook and eat our frog legs! It’s nothing major, we just want to split our half frog down the middle into two equally nice little frog legs.
Cooking Frog Legs – Step one: Chop!
So, simply suck it up, grab a heavy chef’s knife or a cleaver and place it right across the middle of the saddle of the frog (the, uhh, cheeks will guide you where to go), apply a bit of force and you’ll have two perfectly good frog legs. At this point, feel free to trim or brush off any excess bone or nastiness, have a sip of beer and pat yourself a pad on the back for a job well done with the easiest bit of butchering you’ll ever do. Well done. Maybe next time we’ll move onto chickens. For now, let’s get some flavour into our frog legs by way of a marinade!
Cooking Frog Legs – Step two: Add flavor!
Why am I so keen on bringing some extra flavors to the party? Because it seems like the thing to do amongst those in the know! The French, for example, love their frog legs loaded with butter, garlic and parsley. Their distant cousins in Louisiana and other parts of the Southern US, on the other hand, like their frog legs battered and deep-fried in oil. The Chinese and Malay people, who by the way giggled at the barbaric concept of deep-frying frog legs, like marinating theirs in soy before stir frying with other spices, while the lovely people of Indonesia, some of the biggest consumers of frog legs, like theirs in soup with garlic, ginger and fermented soya beans. Indeed, if frogs taste like chicken, it must be a pretty bland sort of chicken.
And, indeed, that is the thing about frog legs (spoiler alert!), they’re wonderful pieces of meat, but they don’t bring a lot of flavor to the party on their own. This probably explains why so many cultures, in their own unique ways, have decided to help them on their way. If you ask me, any of the suggestions above are brilliant, but for this particular experiment, I took a page from pretty much every book and created Asian-style Chili, Garlic and honey marinated deep-fried frog legs with panko breading!
Why would I go and take a couple of perfectly acceptable ways of cooking perfectly unusual proteins and toss them up? Why would I take an Asian-style marinade and combine it with a Western style way of cooking that my local Asian market owner actually giggled at when offering various cooking options for me. Well, because I can and because I felt like shaking things up a bit to create something new and unusual out of an already rather unusual ingredient. Walk with me, if you dare.
I’m not trying to make the best of both worlds here or trying to win friends (or enemies) in either camp. Honestly? I just thought it would be the perfect combination. And you know what, I was right. It is the perfect combination of flavor and texture. On one hand, you have the soft, delicate flavors of the meat tingled by a bit (okay, a lot!) of chili, garlic and ginger to create fruity, fiery zingy flavors which in turn are numbed down a bit by the honey, the sweetness of the meat and the crunchy “breadiness” of batter. On the other hand, you have the unparalleled tenderness of the meat beautifully offset by the incredible, crispy crunch of the panko breading. It’s like an Asian (amphibious) chicken wing, really, only you’d be hard pressed to find a more tender, juicy chicken wing with a more contrasting crunch!
Also, it’s going to allow me to play with one of my favorite ingredients, panko bread crumbs, and one of my new favorite (occasional) cooking methods: deep frying!
Oh and hey, speaking of chicken wings – if you’ve decide by now that frogs are not for you after all – the marinade described below will make a wonderful marinade for any Asian-style fried chicken. Just saying.
Deep-fried Asian-Style Frog Legs Recipe
Fair warning! This recipe calls for hot sauce, and a lot of it to boot. I like my food with a kick and I’d suggest using an Asian-style hot sauce with lots of fruitiness and a fair bit of heat. You could use Sriracha, or you could try your hand at my Ghost Chili Mango Hot Sauce. Basically anything that’s fruity, fresh and spicy will work, but avoid Lousiana-style vinegar based sauces like Tabasco. The vinegar is too overpowering in the mix. If you’re not too crazy about heat, use a mild hot sauce, or tone down the amount to your liking. You can always add more hot sauce after cooking.
- 12 frog legs, thawed
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon liquid honey
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 clove of garlic, mashed
- 1 thumbnail-sized piece of ginger, grated extremely fine
- a few drops of roasted sesame seed oil
- freshly ground black pepper
- 50 grams flour
- 50 grams panko breadcrumbs
- one large egg
- a splash of milk
- Whisk all ingredients for marinade thoroughly together in a bowl.
- Place frog legs in a heavy duty zip-loc bag.
- Pour marinade over frog legs, carefully squeeze excess air from the bag and seal shut.
- Carefully swish bag to make sure legs are evenly coated.
- Marinate for 4-6 hours in the fridge, turning the bag a couple of times in the process.
- Pour flour into one large, shallow dish and the panko bread crumbs into another.
- In a third shallow dish, beat the egg with the milk until smooth and thoroughly combined.
- Grab one frog leg from the bag of marinate, shake off any excess marinade and dredge in the flour to cover.
- Dip flour-covered frog leg in egg mixture until thoroughly covered, allow excess egg mixture to drain off for a few seconds.
- Roll egg-covered frog leg in panko mixture until thoroughly coated using a little scooping and force if necessary to make the breadcrumbs stick and coat evenly.
- Set frog leg aside on a plate and repeat with remaining frog legs.
- Heat oil to 180 C.
- Working in batches of four or so, fry the frog legs for about 6-8 minutes or until golden brown and delicious.
- Remove from oil and sprinkle liberally with salt, then keep hot and crispy in a 100 C oven while finishing the frying process.
Frog legs: Taste Nothing Like Chicken!
I know, I know. It’s the moment you have all been waiting for. I’ve examined it, I’ve geeked out over it, I’ve cooked it and I’ve tasted it. Does frog taste like chicken?!
Well, I hate to sound like a broken record, but.. I’ve been fortunate enough to try a few slightly uncommon proteins that people will tell you taste just like chicken, including alligator and frog legs. Remarkably, though, neither of these have tasted anything like chicken. I can see why some would describe frog legs as chicken-like in appearance and texture. Frog legs, after all, look and feel a lot like chicken wings, only they are perhaps even more soft and tender in texture than chicken wings. The taste, though? It’s not like chicken. It is, however very subtle, very mild and very hard to describe which may be why the word chicken comes to mind.
First things first, frog legs do not taste like very much at all. It’s a mild, delicately flavored white meat flavor without intensity or funk, milder than chicken, actually. What little flavor the meat holds, though, is not chicken or even poultry-like at all. It’s a unique, special sort of flavor that is actually more akin to fish or crustacean than anything else. Call in a mix between fowl and lean fish. Reptile-like might be more like it but I haven’t the frame of reference to be certain. It’s a special sort of taste, but not unappealing. It is, as stated, very mild, though, which is probably why frog legs are usually either marinated, breaded or served in really fragrant or spicy sauces.
But do frog legs taste good? Oh yes!
In the case of my experimental batch here, the heat and fruitiness of the chilies as well as the aromatic qualities of the garlic and ginger really add backbone and underlying complexity to the otherwise mildly flavored meat while the honey plus soy sauce adds a fermented hint of sweetness. The beautiful product that is panko bread crumbs adds wonderful crunch and texture to the otherwise soft meat, creating a perfect contrast and something that is essentially a cross in flavor and texture between chicken wings and breaded shrimp. It’s not quite either of them – it’s somewhere in-between. I think I shall henceforth refer to frogs as chickens of the pond and people shall look at me weirdly.
Have you had your share of unusual proteins lately?