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Fond of Frogs� Legs?

Here are a few great places to find them

By Suzanne Hall

I don�t remember when I first ate frogs� legs, but I do recall my father�s first encounter with them. While enjoying a fried seafood platter at a popular Sarasota, Florida, restaurant, he commented on �the delicious little chicken legs.� When my mother told him they were frogs� legs, he paled slightly and quickly moved them to her plate. He never ate another one.

His reaction wasn�t out of the ordinary. Most people either love frogs� legs or they won�t touch them. And, they�ve always been surrounded by controversy. Neither fish nor fowl, these amphibians have long been fried, saut�ed and put into soup by Chinese, German and Italian chefs. It took the French, though, to elevate cuisses de grenouilles (literally legs of frogs) to haute cuisine status. But don�t call them classical. The traditional French preparation, frogs� legs Provencale, is far too garlicky for that distinction. Like escargots a la Bourguignonne, they are more of a country French dish.

In the late 1800s, when the French were enamored with frogs� legs, the British had no taste for them at all. To express their displeasure and the less than friendly relations between France and England, Englishmen of the time,� referred to the French as frogs. Even the culinary genius Auguste Escoffier had difficulty getting the English to eat frogs legs. Legend has it that when he ran the kitchen at London�s Carlton Hotel, he managed to get them on the Prince of Wales� table by calling them cuisses de nymphes aurore (legs of the dawn nymphs).

No one has taken credit for first putting frogs� legs on American tables. There is no reference to them in the oldest of American cookbooks. One would suspect, though, that early on in rural areas, especially in Louisiana and other areas with a high concentration of European immigrants, frogs� legs were used frequently by home cooks.

�Several times each year, Dad and the boys went froggin� so Mom Prudhomme could cook frogs� legs,� writes Paul Prudhomme in The Prudhomme Family Cookbook of Old-Time Louisiana Recipes. Included in the book is a recipe for frogs� legs and garlic Hopalong Cassidy, a spicy dish in which frogs� legs are first fried then simmered with onions, green peppers, garlic and chicken stock.

Frogs� legs aren�t exactly a mainstream menu item. But a surprising number of fine dining and casual restaurants serve them. Here are just a few places you�ll find them ready and waiting. Since, menus may change vary, be sure to call ahead before you go.

The Boiled Frog

(1269 Market St., Chattanooga, TN, 423-756-3764)

Howard Cantor, chef and part-owner of The Boiled Frog, a Cajun restaurant, uses two different techniques for preparing frogs� legs. For the fried version, he dredges the legs in flour seasoned with his own Cajun spice mix, dips them in buttermilk and deep fries them. They are served with one of three sauces: garlic and butter, Cajun seasoning and butter or a house-made hot sauce. As an appetizer, four two-to-three-ounce legs come with French fries and coleslaw. The entree serving includes ten legs accompanied by a salad of mixed greens.

For customers who don�t want fried foods, Cantor provides frogs� legs piquante. He saut�s the legs, then braises them in a house Creole sauce. They�re finished in a 400-degree oven. �When you cook them this way, the meat literally falls off the bone,� Cantor says. On the menu as an entree, frogs� legs piquante are served over white rice with a salad.

Club Grotto

(2116 Bardstown Rd., Louisville, KY, 502-459-5275)

At Club Grotto, Executive Chef-Owner Jim McKinney�s kitchen staff always hopes frogs� legs don�t sell well. Since McKinney doesn�t like to hold fresh frogs� legs for more than a day, any leftovers are dipped in egg wash, floured and pan saut�ed. Eaten with blue cheese dressing, they are a late-night favorite for McKinney and his cooks.

These Buffalo frogs� legs don�t appear on the McKinney�s menu, though. An American� bistro, Club Grotto is �too upscale for a Buffalo-style dish,� he says. Instead McKinney�s customers usually dine on frogs� legs Provencale (pictured above). The legs are saut�ed in olive oil with garlic and shallots with some white wine and lemon juice. Frogs� legs usually appear on the Club Grotto menu as both an appetizer and an entree. The four-ounce appetizer portion is sometimes served with brunoise potatoes or garnished with �whatever comes in from the produce companies.� The six- to eight-ounce main dish serving might be accompanied by the vegetables of the evening, a rice dish and mango and rock shrimp salsa. On other occasions, the frogs� legs are served over rice with roasted corn and tomato salsa and fried jalapeno peppers. For a variation on the Provencale theme, McKinney grills legs that have been marinated� in sherry and serves them with chimichurri dipping sauce.

Everest

(440 South LaSalle St., Chicago, IL, 312-663-68920)

Brasserie Jo

(59 West Hubbard, Chicago, IL, 312-595-0800)

The style and theme of� the dining room also determine the way Jean Joho, chef-owner of two Chicago restaurants, prepares frogs� legs. At Everest,� his fine dining room, servers wear tuxedos and the menu includes many classical French dishes with a contemporary flair. Frogs� legs always are boneless and served as an appetizer. Le risotto carnaroli aux jambonettes de grenouille pairs saut�ed boneless frogs� legs with a risotto made from Carnaroli, a short-grain Italian rice.

Since Joho changes his menu regularly, frogs� legs also could appear Provencale style or in a watercress soup.

At Brasserie Jo, �the concept is totally different,� Joho says. The setting is more casual. The menu includes the specialties of Alsace and France�s other regions. Frogs� legs at the brasserie could be saut�ed and served in a white wine sauce or deep fried with sauce tartare or aioli.

Clio

(The Eliot Hotel, 370A Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA, 617-536-7200)

�I like to combine something unusual like frogs legs with more familiar dishes like risotto or pasta,� says Ken Oringer, executive-chef owner of Clio. On the appetizer menu this past winter, Oringer offered boneless frogs� legs with fresh tagliatelle pasta and sweet garlic and truffle cream.� To present the dish, Oringer puts some garlic puree on the plate, tops it with the pasta coated with the truffle cream and stands five legs, sauteed until crispy, on the pasta. On other occasions, the menu might include the crispy legs with glazed brussels sprout leaves, bacon and pearl onions, surrounded by parsley broth, or with a sweet garlic custard, made from eggs, cream and roasted garlic puree (pictured below).

Aubriot

(1962 North Halsted, Chicago, IL, 773-281-4211)

Eric Aubriot, chef-owner of Aubriot doesn�t usually worry about combining ingredients mostly unfamiliar to American diners. But, when he opened his restaurant last year with fricassee of Florida frogs� legs and roasted veal kidneys with cr�me fleurette sauce on the� menu, he �didn�t know if Americans would accept this very French dish. We were pleasantly surprised. They loved it,� he says.

To prepare the appetizer, Aubriot, saut�s boned frogs legs, deglazes the pan then adds� cream, salt, pepper and chives. The roasted kidney are served on the side. His all French menu also has included an appetizer of boneless frogs� legs with herb or garlic butter and cream. �I always serve the meat off the bone. People don�t like to eat with their hands and prefer not to have to deal with the bone,� he says.

The Oakroom

(The Seelbach Hilton, 500 Fourth Ave., Louisville, KY, 800-333-3399)

Frogs� legs are expected on the menus of� French restaurants. But patrons of The Oakroom often are surprised to find them part of the restaurant�s �Kentucky fine dining menu.� They fit right in as far as Jim Gerhardt, executive chef, is concerned. �There is a tradition of frogs� legs in the Midwest. Unfortunately, too many operations today serve them breaded and fried. They�re seen as an alternative to fried chicken and not for their fine dining potential.�

On The Oakroom�s winter menu, Gerhardt offered gratinee of lobster, frogs� legs and oysters. The dish combines frogs� legs, oysters, pieces of lobster and crawfish saut�ed together in white wine and sherry. The combination is then covered with lobster sauce, topped with some Gruyere cheese and browned. It�s served with sour dough crustini. �Guests break off a piece of the crustini and use it to spoon up the sauce,� Gerhardt says.

Gerhard changes his menu frequently. So customers in the future might find frogs� legs combined with any number of other ingredients.

Dal Rae

(9023 E. Washington Blvd., Pico Rivera, CA, 562-949-2444)

Many chefs find that frogs� legs sell better as appetizers rather than entrees. People often don�t want to eat enough of them to make meal. Others are unfamiliar with them and would rather risk the cost of a starter not a main course.

Dal Rae has been an East Los Angeles dining institution for more than 40 years. Frog�s legs saut� has been on the menu the entire time. �No one would even consider taking it off� the menu,� says Executive Chef Eddie Garcia.

When Garcia signed on as the family-owned restaurant�s chef a little over a year ago, he had never cooked frogs� legs. Although his father is a regular and longtime patron of the restaurant, the younger Garcia had never eaten them either.

He learned quickly that the secret to Dal Rae�s frogs� legs success was to lightly flour the legs, dip them in a mixture of eggs and milk, flour them again and saut� them in olive oil. Seasoned with salt and pepper and topped with a little garlic butter, they are served with baked potato or rice. Most popular as an entree, the Dal Rae also serves the dish as an appetizer.

Images by Andy Ryan and courtesy of Club Grotto/FSA Public Relations

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