Friday, November 28, 2008

Ballseye's Gastronomica - Frogs Anyone?

A few days ago I decided that it had been way to long since I ventured into the land of the lost, which for me would be my kitchen. Yes - I am ashamed to say that I have been a stranger to my kitchen - at least as a man who practices the art of culinary grumpiness - for way too long. So I decided, a few nights ago, to take a trip down to Little Italy where it blends together with Chinatown near Mott and Grand Streets. I was determined to pick up something from Di Palos, and Italian food store that sells absolutely scrumptious things. Not that I knew that from personal experience, but I had watched some cooking show the night before (actually a show about food stores and restaurants and such) and this place was given high kudos.

So I made my way there, the very next night after having seen the show, and I entered the place full of gastronomic anticipation. I expected my senses to be overwhelmed by the sight of the delicacies, the aromas of the many cheeses and meats, and hopefully by the flavors after a taste of this and a taste of that. What I had not been expecting, but will admit I had given a passing thought to, was the other customers who would be shopping therein. So when I walked in the door, and almost had to push my way inside because of the crowd, I was - to say the least - disappointed. I grabbed a number from the glossy red dispenser on the wall just inside the entrance, and they immediately called a number. Heck it was about 20 ahead of mine! I decided to take my number and take a walk.

I walked toward Canal Street on Mott, or maybe it was Elizabeth, but it was southbound. There were a lot of Chinese markets mixed in with the occasional Italian business. Over the years Chinatown has expanded northward to include much of what was once hardcore Little Italy. What a blend - east truly meets west - and when you think of Marco Polo - what could be more appropriate! Yet there have been some hard to blend issues among the Italian Immigrants and Chinese Immigrants, they don't always blend so well; yet I think they get along pretty well all things considered especially because they all they wanted to do was to become Americans. Two groups of immigrants that came to the USA with the same goals -seeking to better themselves and both groups offering their unique cuisines to the rest of New York. I was about to take advantage of one of them, but not the one I had expected.

As I walked along checking out the Chinese vegetable, meat and fish markets, my eye was caught by some movement. There in a bucket inside a fish market was a drum full of frogs. Nice, big, fat, frogs, with pretty good sized rear legs. My mouth watered, I had not eaten frogs' legs in probably 20 years or more. I thought about it for a moment. It would mean buying at least a few live frogs, transporting them home in my car, then keeping them alive until I decided to cook em. Of course this also would mean that if my wife saw em I might be outside in the cold really quickly - she has had enough of my pets, or at least thinks I have enough of them. Heck, there was only one or two other customers in the store, and Di Paolos' probably still had a good 12 to 15 people ahead of me since I had only been out of there for about 5 or 10 minutes at most. It was an easy decision, I bought three frogs, then I headed back to Di Paolos'. I turned out they had only gotten past two or three numbers, I walked back out and headed home.

Now three frogs is not enough to feed even one person on frogs legs even if they are big ones. I had thought I would be buying a few other things at Di Palos' but it just did not happen. So I headed home and figured at least Brendan and I could get a taste as an appetizer to something else. I guess that was Tuesday night. On Wednesday I decided to head back to the same area. I did not even give Di Paolos' a thought, it would be there when I again get a hankerin for Italian fixins; this time I headed right toward some Chinese fish markets on Canal Street this time coming from the other side of Chinatown. Nope, I was not going to the same one where I had bought the first three frogs, they had ripped me off, or tried. I had thought the frogs seemed lighter than that for which I had been charged, and I went back and asked them to reweigh them. They did and refunded me a couple of bucks. So on Wednesday night, I headed for place that I sometimes shop in for fish. No luck finding any frogs there; but I got some nice shrimp - 2 pounds of it. I made to yet another place. They had plenty of frogs and I got another three of them. Then I spied a container of sea scallops in another store and I got a pound and a half of them too. I also picked up some hot pepper sauce with crushed hot pepper in it. That was not for the dish I had in mind though. For the frogs, shrimp and scallops I figured to do something along the lines of sauteed bat wings pond/seafood in a mixture of shredded onions, thinly sliced mushrooms, slivered almonds, a touch of garlic, butter, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, and yes maybe even a touch of that pepper sauce. I was planning either one hell of a case of agita or one fine tasting meal.

I got the three new frogs home, and put them into the tank with the three I had already purchased. They did splendidly together. As the night wore on, at least one of them started to croak and sing his froggy song to the ladies in the tank. Lord knows what else happened. Little did they know this was to be their last such encounter, but such is the life of a Bullfrog - which by the way is the type of frog that they were. They grow fairly fast from tadpole to adult maturing in a year or two, they have a furious ferw seasons of mating if they have any luck at all and are not eaten by something else first. They can live up to about 8 years in the wild; in captivity, when kept as pets, they have been known to live much longer. Bullfrogs were native to the eastern and central United States but their range has spread markedly across many parts of the USA and sometimes across the oceans to foreign lands. They did not increase their range by themselves, they had lots of help in the form of people who liked to eat frogs' legs. They are the largest native North American frog, and tey eat a lot to gain the size they can attain. As nature would have it, it is often the destiny of the Bullfrog to eat other smaller creatures, only itself to wind up being eaten by other larger creatures. In this case these were destined to be eaten by other creatures - me, Brendan, and maybe even Linda and Celina.

Well, of course it was not time to cook them on Wednesday night, not with Thanksgiving being the next day and not with me having made a stop in my old stomping grounds on the way home. I got home kind of late after meeting up with a few good friends from the Farmer's Oval days. So I waited until today. Not a bad idea, actually cooking a fresh meal on the day after Thanksgiving and therefore getting around the whole 'we gotta eat leftovers thing. Well at least we got away from leftover turkey for a day, there is always tomorrow and there sure is plenty of turkey from yesterday.
Today, Linda and Brendan were out with Oma (Louise, my mother-in-law) to visit my mom; and Celina was working. Around noon or so, I went down into the basement, figuring this was the day for the frogs to meet their maker, and I clobbered them pretty good to make sure they would not feel a thing when I prepared them for cooking. Then I got down to the butchering part, I guess that is what you would call it. A sharp knife, and a pair of pliers were all I needed to get the job done. As it turned out, for some reason I only slaughtered 5 of the frogs, and gave one a pardon. I seem to recall something about me thinking there would be no pardons around here - but oh well what the heck.

After butchering the frogs, I rinsed the legs well, and I put then between several sheets of paper toweling in the fridge. I had time to kill before I would be ready to cook since it was only about noon. Then I went to work on our checking account, 6 months of unbalanced mayhem and a few hours of working it all out. Once I had gotten that dirty deed out of the way I poured myself a nice iced tea and Potato Vodka and then got to work on cooking the evening's meal. I did not have time to take any pictures when I was actually cooking it like I did when I was butchering them. It is just too hectic for a high strung type like me in the kitchen, especially since it has been such a long time my not being in there cooking (well truthfully I made an apple pie not all that long ago - yes from scratch, but it had been awhile since I did the main meal). Anyway, I got right down to it. I sauteed the frogs legs separately. Then I sauteed the onions and mushrooms and almonds, then added the shrimp to that. I sauteed the scallops on their own. When everything was ready I combined all the ingredients. Sides were boiled Yukon potatoes, and steamed corn kernels. When I sat down to chow down, I decided it would be best to slice up one of the Yukons then toss some of the pond/seafood mixture on top of it. Man it was good, and I can not think of a better complimentary vegetable than was the corn. Mmm, mmmmmm goooood.

While eating, I told Oma what was the one mystery ingredient in the dish. She asked me in sort of an incredulous tone: "What is this?". I told her again and she made a face showing her disgust. A few seconds later she was smiling telling me how wunderbar it tasted. Linda gave me sort of the same look but she too gave it a try and shortly thereafter her portion was devoured. Brendan hardly spoke except once or twice to say it was good and to say the frogs' legs really did taste a bit like chicken. He ate every morsel too. All throughout the meal, I was none too sure it was really to every one's liking; I am burdened with a lack of self confidence, something I have carried with me since childhood. Yet even I could see that from the looks of the cleaned off plates, yes indeed everyone had loved it.

Celina just got home from work as I sit here typing. She usually visits us on Friday nights. When she came in she asked what smelled so good. She sat down to eat almost immediately, and she called out to me that it was great. I guess I've done good today. I think maybe I should start getting back into cooking, maybe at least one or two meals a week, a loaf or two of bread a week, and at least one baked desert weekly too. Time will tell. I stopped cooking for a reason, it got me to wound up if something went wrong and my being wound up affected everyone. I have to admit though, I don't let it get me that way nowadays. Besides that, if I must say so myself, I can whip up a pretty tasty meal now and again, and when I make my genuine Apfelstrudel, it is to die for - I mean it.

Hmm, things have just changed a bit. Celina suddenly has stopped eating the frogs' legs. She had been devouring it, then I asked her what she thought it was that she had been eating. She said shrimp, scallops and squid. I asked her if she had ever seen squid with bones, and she was baffled. Then Linda told her what it was that she had been enjoying ever so much. That was it, she would not eat another bite of it, although she ate everything else. Oh well, she ate everything else, and had been eating the frog thinking it was delicious until learning what it was threw her appetite off. Ignorance can truly be bliss! Luckily for me none of them saw the pics that accompany this post, and better still did not see the pics I did not include with this post (much gorier). Brendan could handle the pics but I am pretty sure the girls would not have been happy, at least not if they saw them before the meal. Then again, that last pic is not bad at all - is it?

All the best,
Glenn B

1 comment:

Humble wife said...

Great post...and the pictures well~ pretty neat! Bill told me he ate frogs legs when he was a boy, oh and they would go gather the frogs first(only boys would do it this way that he told me:)

I would have never guessed the self confidence thing, so I presume you are just kidding. Good to see that the food was yummy for all(before they knew).

I must confess except for snakes this stuff is not too gross to me. Snakes on the other hand- oh well I dread March when they *come out* again.