Frog legs--delicacy or eco-issue? Local restaurants weigh in
Frog legs enjoyed a certain level of kitschy popularity about 30 years ago, appearing regularly in Twin Cities buffets. But today, only a few of our restaurants serve the amphibs on their daily menus, and scant others offer them as seasonal specials. Perhaps it's because diners are more squeamish these days. Or, maybe it's due to a new group called Save the Frogs that insists that whether wild or farmed-sourced, consuming frogs decreases the natural population.
We asked some local eateries and wholesalers their thoughts on Save the Frogs's claims and about frog legs in general. So should you worry about the frogs or gobble down that tasty appetizer?
Save the Frogs is "a nonprofit organization dedicated to amphibian conservation" according to its website. The charity says eating frog legs decreases the wild population of all kinds of frogs even if farm-raised. It contends that frog farms are hotbeds of the chytid fungus that causes the amphibian-killing disease chytridiomycosis. One study showed that 62 percent of captive bullfrogs ( Rana catesbeiana) in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco had the chytid fungus that creates the disease. The countries that engage in the industry have lax protocols, according to STF, leading to the transportation of the infected frogs.
While an interesting argument, it may not apply to the legs that appear on your plate in the Twin Cities. All the restaurants and wholesalers we spoke with deal in frozen, farm-raised product from China or Japan. According to Coastal Seafood's Tim Lauer, the Rana catesbeiana he stocks is farmed "intensively," which means the frogs never have contact with the outside world. They are processed and frozen on site, and only the legs arrive here, frozen in pairs. A fear of salmonella and a range of flavor that wasn't always palatable caused Coatal Seafoods and others to eschew the wild varieties altogether. The farm-raised legs have a mild and more standard taste. Two other area wholesalers concur, saying that the trade has gotten more sanitary with the rise of modern Asian frog farms. All they see are frozen legs, and never live frogs. Wild amphibs are still caught down south, in a process called "gigging" but none of the wholesalers handle that product any more.
We also spoke with a few restaurants that serve them regulary (Cavé Vin and Taste of Thailand II) and some who feature them from time to time ( Sanctuary and Cafe Levain ). All said their legs, sourced from various wholesalers, are all Asian farm-raised and come in frozen pairs or saddles, as they are called in the business. And while local French restaurants get requests for them, frog legs are not overly popular in these parts, appearing much less frequently on area menus than escargot or foie gras.
So what's the right thing to do? It's your choice, though if you opt for the eating, Cavé Vin has a sauteed appetizer with butter, lemon and garlic, while Taste of Thailand II serves them chopped in a hot basil stir fry entree.
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