DISCLAIMER- If you are really backwoods, a real hillbilly, or swamp person, please know I mean you no disrespect with this post…it is all in good fun!
The first time I had dinner with my brother’s girlfriend Karen, she asked us all to check out an awesome Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. On the menu, among other delicious sounding dishes, I saw spicy Cantonese frog legs. As I was trying to make a good impression I summoned my strength and did not order this delicious sounding feast! However, since that day I have been craving frog legs cooked in a not-so-western style.
If you think squirrel sounds like hillbilly food, I have to say, to me, frog legs sound like downright swamp-people fare. Yet they are delectable!
Photo- Jarek TuszynskiThe American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) thrives in the wetlands, bogs, rivers, ditches, and every other moist habitat it can find here in California. Yet it is not a native species! In fact, the American bullfrog is responsible for the decimation of many invertebrates, competing native species, and yes even our beloved native salmonids i.e. salmon and steelhead fry. They are such cunning and relentless hunters that in many California lakes and bodies of water with current high concentrations of bullfrogs, all salmonid restoration efforts have ceased until these green eating machines are completely eradicated. This is a sad state of affairs for our native species, especially the red legged frog (Rana draytonii) which have been decimated by this intruder. Yet once again, we hungry foragers (and all of you I hope) are coming to the rescue. It is true that bullfrogs are not native, but few people realize that they were originally introduced for food…because they taste soooo good!
My partner-in-crime, and best buddy, Alex was completely on board when I proposed an all night hillbilly-style frog giggin’ adventure. He arrived shortly thereafter and, with a few straps and a whole lot of elbow grease, we had the two-man kayak delicately balanced on the small roof of his Honda Civic. The night before we had scouted the pools that we intended to hunt and had heard the unmistakable croak of bullfrogs en masse…if you can call them croaks…they were more like growls! These little amphibians have an ominous and thunderous call that resonates so deep into the darkness that if you did not know they were frogs, you might think twice before a stroll along the lake shore. However, we knew exactly what we were hearing thanks to many a hillbilly happily sharing frog gigging tips on www.youtube.com.
We began by rigging up our aqueous hunting equipment. The tool of choice for lacustrine environments is an effective and menacing implement known by a simple name—GIG! We constructed two cold steel tipped frog spears complete with hand carved barbs. Alex fashioned his from an old three prong pole spear tip that had brought me many calico bass in southern California, and him many rockfish in northern California. He hafted this to a carbon fiber shaft and attached a bungee to give the spear more thrusting power. I went old school and used nothing more than a somewhat straight ash wood shoot I had cut a while back, some string and electrical tape for hafting and two welding rods I cut in half for prongs. These four prongs were fit snuggly into the business end of the gig after I pounded the tips flat with a hammer and anvil and sharpened points and barbs with a file.
When the sun went down we headed to the water heaving along my uncle’s old two man kayak. On the way we met a couple Latinos fishing and chatted one on one about forager cuisine. They recommended using quartered fish (bluegill to be specific) in a spicy fish soup...sounds pretty good to me!
Before we hit the water we had to have some last minute laughs while there was still light so we put on mullet wigs, beards, and whatnot and filmed a hillbilly how-to-gig video clip. By the time the sun went down and we waded out through the aquatic vegetation and mud to launch our watercraft, we were all smiles.
The next half hour we paddled up and down the banks listening to the sounds of the wetlands at night. Cranes, owls, Canada geese, and our favorite, the frogs! I know it is going to sound immature, but I have to say that when a frog doesn’t quite get the croak to come out right, it sounds like a huge fart! So needless to say, many a silent stalk, ready for an accurate shot was destroyed by one of us bursting into laughter after a frog piped up in just such a manner.
By the end of the night we had two frogs each! We were hoping for just one each as it was our first time. We were completely content!
The next morning (late, as we were awake until 2am hunting), we cleaned our quarry and began cooking. The kaffir lime leaves from my mom’s tree inspired the dish, and after a lot of fun adding this and that in the kitchen, we triumphant foragers enjoyed a batch of Thai frog leg red curry that was so good all that could be heard when we ate it was mmmmmmmm! The texture of these frog legs was somewhere between chicken and fish, and the flavor was subtle yet intoxicating.