A Frog's Leap from Swamp to Service

By Lisa Elbert

By

Lisa Elbert

It’s nightfall in the Atchafalaya River Basin, and the croaking of Louisiana bullfrogs echoes across the swamp. The frogs sit—necks expanding and contracting—amid the water hyacinth as the hunters shove off from the shoreline.  So begins the leap from swamp to service.

Chef Jeffrey Hansell serves 60 pounds of frogs legs a week at his Covington restaurant, Oxlot 9. That requires 300 frogs to be hunted and fabricated several days a week, year round—excluding April and May, when frog hunting is out of season. Bullfrogs are abundant in the Atchafalaya—and they’re better. The vast majority of the country’s frog legs are imported from China among various other countries, and sell for roughly $6 per pound. Hansell’s come in fresh instead of frozen, cost $14 per pound, and enjoy a much cleaner, free-roaming life than their imported cousins.   

“They’re not cheap. What’s crazy is that imported frogs are half the price, or even cheaper, than local,” says Hansell. “It’s definitely the route to take for someone that wants to make money, because they’re cutting costs in half. But they’re lacking in flavor and taste, and just the way they’re raised, in those horrible conditions, it’s not worth that money. Plus, we want to promote and help out our local guys.”

When Hansell decided to bring his deep-fried frog legs to the menu at Oxlot 9, he didn’t have to think twice about asking his purveyors at Inland Seafood for wild Louisiana bullfrogs.

1. Giggers hunt at night along the Atchafalaya River Basin, working out of boats or on foot.
2. To kill the frogs they first paralyze them by shining a light directly into their eyes.
3. Next, they spear the motionless frog with a gig (a three-pronged trident), and it joins his lifeless cohorts in a sack on the floor of the fishing boat until the sacks weigh 100 to 200 pounds, and the giggers retire for the night.
4. The frogs are beheaded, gutted, skinned, and cleaned on the boat. The hunters run a knife from the frog’s neck down the belly and through the front of the arms. The front legs are cut off at the joint, and the skin rolls off like a sock. 
5. Hansell’s purveyor, Inland Seafood, brings his delivery straight to his kitchen. Hansell receives the frogs—the two hind legs only—on the backbone. He breaks them down by removing the backbone and cutting the legs in half to separate them. The backbones are roasted off and used in stocks.
6. Hansell marinates the legs in buttermilk and Crystal hot sauce for 12 hours to tenderize and season the muscles.
7. He coats the legs in a mixture of all-purpose flour and Creole spice (paprika, salt, black and white pepper, cayenne pepper, and onion and garlic powders), and then fries them at 350°F for 45 seconds to 1 minute. While warm, Hansell tosses them in a reduction of Crystal hot sauce, heavy cream, and butter.

Hansell serves the crunchy, salty, spicy sweet legs with a gussied up chicken wing pick-up of pickled celery, buttermilk dressing, chives, and parsley.

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