On the edge of the Florida swampland, where the cows graze and airboats rule, Bullfrog Legs are the prized local delicacy.
The plump, tender little thighs of this regal amphibian are served here fried with a side of Louisiana style hot sauce because, it’s “the only way” for them to be eaten, according to Rita, the local frog leg supplier in Fellsmere, Florida, home of the annual Frog Leg Festival. “Those chefs who sauté them, don’t know what in the world they’re doing.” Rita says.
Every January, Ferris wheels, frog legs and bull riding cowboys take over this sweet central Florida town, all in the name of charity. And in the true spirit of a small town carnival, the whole town gets involved by putting out thousands of fried Frog Leg’s and Gator Tail dinners, from the basement of the local High School.
On the road into town, we see hand tooled signs directing us to shuttle bus parking, the Bullfrog Bash Rodeo [and BBQ] and, two local couples smoking fresh mullet on the side of the road, which was awesome! Mullet is usually snubbed by most local fisherman and mainly used for bait, but, freshly smoked; this mild flavored white fish is perfect served with sliced apples and horseradish sauce, made into a spicy fish dip, or, all on its own with a touch of lemon.
“Gigging” frogs is an old Florida tradition and the Blue Cypress swamp located just west of town, is a great fresh water fishery filled with gators, exotic birds and frogs. Hunted at night from an airboat, using a long fiberglass pole tipped with a barbed trident, the “Froggers”, are fitted with a light that is attached to their hat and like a jousting knight, the frogger runs the airboat straight at the frog, skewers it and drops it into a sack on the front of the airboat. The crowd roars!
Looking for a way to raise money for the local schools and to entice the city folk to visit Fellsmere, local frog legs were deemed the ticket. Utilizing their local bounty, the festival has blossomed from 400 dinners at its inception in 1990, to over 7000 dinners in 2010.
I was a bit disappointed at first that fried, was the only way they were prepared here but, being the most flavorful frog’s legs I’ve ever tasted, sans the hot sauce, they were not all wrong. For once, it was not garlic that presented itself first. It was the pure taste of the meat that enticed me. Chicken-fish comes to mind, but, it was more than that, more like a big juicy chicken wing drumette, with an essence of seafood. Hot sauce not required.
Being the pairing nut that I am, I am now on a mission to find the perfect dipping sauce et al, for the fresh legs that Rita set us up with before we left town. How does lightly fried with and Orange-Coconut sauce sound? Or, sautéed in butter with touch of tarragon?