(Image: Michigan J. Frog’ from the Warner Brothers’ film ‘One Froggy Evening’ )
What would happen if you took a family group of 8 people, of two generations and varying culinary tastes, and presented them with a plate of frogs’ legs? Well that’s exactly what I found out on Friday night when dining at a Chinese restaurant to celebrate Rob’s birthday with our families.
Now for any social experiment such as this you need to understand the group you’re dealing with. So let me give you a brief overview. I’d say we’re a fairly typical British family in terms of our culinary tastes, the older generation being generally more reserved than the younger, liking their meat well cooked and ingredients they know and trust. But we all share a love of good food and an interest in how it’s sourced, and we all enjoy home cooking to varying degrees.
We were in high spirits on Friday night and looking forward to a Chinese feast. When it came to ordering Rob’s brother discretely pointed out to the waitress the dish that was to become the talking point of the evening, without telling the rest of the group. He later confided in me that he’d ordered salt and pepper frogs legs (cooked in batter) to see who’d be up for trying them. He’d seen them on menus before but never ordered them himself and this time thought “why not, this is a good opportunity for us all to try them, and it should be interesting to see who will be brave enough”. Indeed.
As for me I was intrigued and looking forward to trying something new. But then I’d frequented this restaurant a lot over the years and never actually ordered the frogs’ legs either. “Why?” I pondered. If I’m honest it’s probably for the same reason as many other people; the thought of an amphibian making the jump, if you’ll forgive the pun, from my garden to my plate isn’t particularly appealing. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I find it repulsive, but I can understand why someone may. Frogs’ legs are very much a delicacy, and an unusual one here in the UK. As they aren’t an everyday ingredient for the British they do bring with them the fear of the unknown, particularly as they’re small, green and live with the creepy crawlies. And from a taste perspective I never really had high expectations of them to be honest; there’s hardly any meat on them for a start. But all this aside, here was an opportunity to try them and I was going to fully embrace it. But what of the others?
When the dish arrived and was announced a buzz of surprised laughter and chatter broke out, among the odd rather horrified expression. As expected the initial reaction of the majority when offered them was “eew, no!” and a shrinking into the chair. There was an adamant no from my Father in law. He was clearly going to be the tough cookie of the group; would we be able to break him? You would perhaps expect the Mums to be particularly squeamish but surprisingly Mum in law was the first to reach for a leg. Everyone around the table waited with baited breath for the first reaction. And it was a good one! Hurrah, success! This seemed to encourage everyone and with a little more peer pressure one by one everyone – yes, even Father in law – tried a leg, with the exception of my Sister in law who only eats fish and chicken meat.
The general consensus was that they were very nice and tasted like chicken, but milder in flavour. Interestingly, Nilmandra from Soy and Pepper told me that they are referred to as 田鸡 (tian ji) in Mandarin, which literally translates as ‘field chicken’. I thought the texture was a little like squid and I also found them very tasty, although very much a nibble as there’s so little meat on them.
The most interesting, and funniest, subject in this experiment was my Mum’s partner, who ate the frogs’ legs with no qualms whatsoever, and yet he was probably the most reserved eater of the group. How interesting, had he completely thrown caution to the wind in wild abandonment? I leant in as I asked with surprise “did you like it?” “oh yes, very nice” came the enthusiastic reply. I was momentarily stunned, until my Mum pursued “so you liked the frogs legs then?” “The what?” came the horrified reply. Oh dear. Unfortunately he’s a little hard of hearing and had completely missed what they actually were. Now here’s the really interesting part. Despite enjoying them he said he would never eat them again. He said he actually got a funny feeling in his tummy when he found out what they were and readily admitted it was completely psychological. And I think that’s not an untypical reaction.
As my brother in law later reflected, the reluctance in our group to try the frogs’ legs seemed to be based on irrational fear and it was only really the peer pressure that made people let down their defenses and try them. I really do think that it’s just that they’re out of the norm for us Brits; frogs aren’t something we’re used to seeing, or thinking about, as food.
But they do have their fans, as I found out when I asked the ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’ forum members if they’d tried them. I’ll leave you with some of their comments.