Grilled Frog Legs With Cornbread And Purple Hull Peas

If I thought that my husband was repulsed by the giant lump of pasty saltpork that was sitting idly on the counter yesterday, just minding its own little salty business, it was nothing compared to his nearly-hysterical reaction to the sight of the frog legs marinating on the counter behind him.

As I watched him, utterly bemused by the sudden tumult caused by my pile of frog legs, it occurred to me then — between his frantic pacing around the kitchen and beleaguered cries of “You can’t be serious!” and “They look like peoples’ legs!!!” — that there are two types of people in this world: people who were brought up on Houston cuisine and people who weren’t.

Purple Hull Peas
Purple hull peas.

Sometimes I am appalled — in hindsight, of course — by my own cultural naivete in assuming that since I grew up eating _____________, then everyone else must have, too.  Hushpuppies, liver and onions, catfish, boudin, pickled okra, grits, crawdads, chicharrones, oxtails, cornbread, tripas, beets, nopales, chicken and dumplings, migas…

All the magical, nostalgic dishes of my youth, which I have only realized as an adult are the product of a childhood spent in southeast Texas, in Houston.  A product of growing up in a complex confluence of cultures: southern, Cajun, Mexican, all flowing together as one.  All mingling and bubbling and stewing to create the unique cuisine of Houston.

Fresh skillet of cornbread.

Someone mentioned in the comments section recently that Houston doesn’t have an “indigenous” culture of its own, nor does it have any specific ingredients that can be pegged as “Houstonian.”  I agree, heartily.  Because what we have — what we’ve cobbled together — is greater than any one cuisine.  We’ve taken the best of all the many people and many cultures that have settled here and made it our own.

Frog Legs, Cornbread & Peas

So, on Sunday, I unassumingly set about making a dinner that — to me — was normal.  But what it represented, now that I look back on it, was everything that I love about Houston: the fresh ingredients, the unapologetic mixing of cultures and the idea that you should eat what you love, no matter who or where it comes from.

Grilled Frog Legs with Cornbread and Purple Hull Peas

The cornbread and peas could, in reality, be eaten as a meal by themselves.  The creamy, fluffy cornbread is the perfect counterpart to the rich meatiness of the purple hull peas.  However, if you’re going to add an actual meat to this meal, something light and delicate like frog legs (or shrimp, or catfish) is ideal.

The cornbread recipe that follows is one I adapted from none other than Alton Brown, whch is essentially the exact same recipe that he adapted from generations of old southern ladies.  The cornbread which results remains unchanged from the dreamy, golden manna that my mother and grandmother have always made.

Homo Milk
You’ll want to use buttermilk. Homo milk has an altogther different taste. 

Creamy Cornbread
Serves 4 (at 2 pieces each)

2 c. stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. creamed corn
1 1/2 Tbs vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Place a well-seasoned (read: good and juicy) cast-iron skillet into the oven while it preheats.

In one bowl, combine the cornmeal, salt, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda and whisk to combine.  In a another bowl, combine the buttermilk (I cannot stress enough how important it is to use buttermilk), eggs, and creamed corn and stir until combined.  Slowly add the dry ingredients (I do three separate additions, stirring well in between) to the liquid ingredients and stir to combine.

Remove the cast-iron skillet from the oven.  Carefully add vegetable oil to the cast iron skillet and then pour the batter into the skillet. Bake until the cornbread is golden brown and springs back upon the touch, about 25 minutes.  Because your skillet is well-seasoned, the cornbread will slip right out and onto your plate.

Peas, Front and Center
Cooked peas.

Purple Hull Peas

This is the loosest recipe in the world, but cooking peas isn’t brain surgery…

If you happen to see purple hull peas in your local store or farmers market, BUY THEM.  If you live in the city, this might be your only chance this year to get any.  You don’t know how lucky you are to have found some!  They aren’t black-eyed peas.  Don’t buy black-eyed peas and think that they’re the same thing.  They aren’t.

If the peas aren’t already shelled, shell them.  Wash them well.  Put in a pot with water that more than covers the peas.  Simmer on low and skim off any scum that rises to the top.  If your peas are well-washed, this shouldn’t happen anyway.

Once your peas are scum-free, add a chunk of salt pork and a few good pinches of kosher salt.  Bring the peas to a rolling boil and then reduce to medium.  With the lid on the pot, let the peas and salt pork cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until done.  Remove salt pork before serving and take time to enjoy the lovely purple shade that it’s turned.

Fresh froggies.

Grilled Frog Legs

I take it back: this, indeed, may be the loosest recipe in the world.  I’ll let y’all be the judges…

Buy some fresh (not frozen) frog legs from your local butcher. Remove them from their packaging and pat dry. Season on both sides with a little seasoning salt (I prefer Lawry’s) and allow to sit for a while, but not too long (about fifteen minutes should do it).

Take your froggies out to the grill and grill them over medium heat, about two to three minutes per side. You don’t want the meat overdone, since it will lose that delicious juicyness if you cook them for too long, so watch them carefully. When the meat starts to turn opaque white with just a hint of browning, they’re done.

Froggy Goes a Grillin'
Froggie goes a grillin’.

You’re ready to serve dinner now!  If you have a bunch of people, you can make this an even bigger and better meal with the addition of some greens (collard or mustard, your call) and some squash boiled down with butter and sugar and a little bit of salt.  For dessert, if you haven’t eaten all the cornbread, split a piece in half and drizzle a bunch of honey over it.

Enjoy your Houston meal, and toast the fact that while we may not have any cuisine of our very own, we’ll happily appropriate someone else’s, incorporate it into our crazy, mixed-up culinary family and love it every bit as much as they did.

P.S.  My husband gamely ate the frog legs, even though he claimed to feel like a contestant on Fear Factor.  He admits, however, that the meat is delicious…if you can just get past the visual above.

P.P.S.  Upon seeing the pictures from our dinner last night, my boss remarked, “Your poor husband.  Did he know what he was getting himself into with you?  It’s like Beauty and the Geek.”  …with the clear insinuation that I was the Geek in that little equation.


25 thoughts on “Grilled Frog Legs With Cornbread And Purple Hull Peas”

  1. Okay, while I’ve grown up eating frog legs, I DO have to admit that lying on the grill, they do look disturbingly like teeny, Lilliputian asses, thighs and calves….as though these bitsy people had either been unceremoniously cut in half OR they are bent down into the fire, desperately searching for a way out of their disastrous dilemma.

  2. Great post. Frog legs are delicious, and that sounds like a perfect combination. Cool photos.

    I’m curious about your background, given that you grew up eating frog legs. I’m a sixth generation East Texan. My older relatives were poor-to-middle-class folks who grew up in towns like Kountze and Woodville and Sour Lake. I grew up eating home-cooked meals in those towns, and going to a lot of East Texas church picnic buffets. I ate a lot of cornbread made from a recipe just like yours.

    But no one ever served me a frog leg until I went to a fancy restaurant in the 1980s. And I never saw a frog leg in a store until I went to Central Market. (The again, my wife said she ate squirrels growing up in Porter, Texas, but I never saw squirrel meat either.)

    So did your family make frog legs growing up? Or were you first exposed to them when eating in the exotic meltingpot of Houston restaurants? What I am really wondering is whether there is a Houston-area tradition of eating frog legs that I just missed?

  3. Stumbled upon this and had to say im loving it and will be reading from now on.
    Mainly because of this: “I agree, heartily. Because what we have — what we’ve cobbled together — is greater than any one cuisine. We’ve taken the best of all the many people and many cultures that have settled here and made it our own.”


  4. Houston has no dominant ethnic group, but it certainly does have indigenous food culture. It’s just not over promoted to draw tourism to a city

    Just as Austin and surrounding towns have a strong tradition of BBQ, Houston and San Antonio have both originated very distinctive brands of Tex-Mex food.

    We certainly didn’t invent grilled skirt steak, but fajitas in their current incarnation took off in Houston. Today you find them all over the world (, but the menu’s never cite Houston roots of this dish nor do they taste quite like they do here.

    Similarly, San Antonio have signature dishes that you rarely find faithfully replicated anywhere else. Puffy tacos, cheese enchiladas, thick and doughy flour tortillas. All unique to San Antonio.

    Now, if you really want to find a city with nothing to offer to the food world look no further than Dallas. Where good taste comes to die.

  5. I had no idea frog’s legs were a Texan thing. Who knew? I ran across some beans that looked like those last summer at our greenmarket, but they were called Pink-Eyed Cow Peas. They were delicious and I can’t wait to buy some more out from under a snooty chef’s nose again this summer. Thanks for the lovely recipe if I accomplish my devious mission 🙂

  6. Mmmmm. A couple of Thanksgivings ago I made a succotash with fresh purple hull peas and oyster cream Fantastic. But I’m wondering, you said you were marinating the frogs’ legs, but the recipe says nothing about it. Maybe I only know the fancy French way to cook them, but aren’t they supposed to be soaked in milk to remove any potential muddy flavor?

  7. Ann: they really aren’t:) You won’t actually find them in Texas restaurants unless they happen they happen to be Cajun or French and maybe not even then.

    Frog legs are almost certainly a Louisiana import, where food is heavily influenced by the French. If you really want to immerse yourself in amphibian food drive down to Rayne in Louisiana, a self proclaimed frog capital of the world.

    I think the point here is that living in Houston you are likely to find people who’ll eat venison, chicharrones, menudo, goat, alligator, sweetbreads, fish sauce, kimche, barbacoa, frong legs or tofu without batting an eye. Try that in Cincinnati.

  8. @ Jo: I’m sure the hubby will feel vindicated by your agreement with his observations… 🙂

    @ anonymouseater: Funny you should say that you’re a sixth-generation East Texan, since Jo (the commenter right above you) happens to be a sixth-generation East Texan as well. Why yes, I do make it a point of learning all of my commenters’ various genealogies. 😉 Anyway, I’m a seventh-generation Texan, with roots in both East and West Texas, but leaning more towards the East. We’re from just a bit farther north — Marshall, Tatum, Henderson, et al.

    Jo and I both grew up eating at church picnics, having big fish frys on summer evenings after the boys had caught a bunch of catfish, enjoying a family potluck after the annual family cemetery cleaning/family reunion, etc, etc.

    To answer your question directly about the frog legs, the first place I ever ate them was at a restaurant in Humble called Daddy Did It. It was a favorite for post-church lunches back in the day. They served a mix of southern and Cajun food — basically the same food that my family up in East Texas makes. I don’t, however, have any relatives that gig frogs or eat squirrel (at least, none that I know of). 😀

    @ Deacon-Frost: Amen to you, my brother! And I love the photos on your own blog; they’re fantastic. 🙂

    @ tastybits: Welcome to the fray! With regard to Tex-Mex, I guess I always looked at it the same way as I do everything else here: something that we took (Mexican cuisine) and messed with till we made it our own. I never thought of it as indigenous before, I suppose. But I like the way you think! 🙂

    And I couldn’t agree with you more about Dallas. That deserves another AMEN.

    @ ann: I don’t know that frog legs are a Texan thing, per se, since they’re eaten around the world (Cajun country, France, Vietnam, etc.); I just know they’re good. Oh, and those WERE purple hull peas! Grab them again if you see them!!!

    @ croquecamille: Ooooh. Succotash sounds lovely! I think marinating was perhaps too loose of a term, really. 🙂 I just seasoned the frogs with Lawry’s and let them sit on the counter for a bit while I messed with the peas. I’m a big advocate of soaking things in milk when they need any gaminess or fishiness or other undesired flavors removed, but these little guys were fresh as a daisy so I didn’t need to do anything at all to them. 🙂

    and back @ tastybits: You captured my point exactly. 🙂

  9. Tex-Mex is as distinct from Mexican cuisine at this point as Creole is from French. America has produced plenty of dishes, but really only one food culture – Cajun/Creole (yeah I just totally lumped them together). Tex-Mex is emerging as the second.

    The fascinating thing is that what people around the world know as Mexican food is in fact a bastardized version of Tex-Mex.

    Food writers in Australia and Russia, for example, write these long pseudo intellectual pieces full of absurdities that an average Texan would find both confusing and insulting.

    In Sydney in particular, the critics go to a lot of trouble to explain to the locals that what they consider to be Mexican food – nachos, burritos and dishes smothered in sour cream – is in fact Tex-Mex, which is the lowest form of Mexican cuisine. They go on to explain that real Mexican food, such as fajitas wrapped in soft flour tortillas, has almost no sour cream and is quite delicious! Being “real” Mexican food untouched by those barbarians in Texas, that is.

    The grocery store shelves, meanwhile, do have Mexican food products. Made by Old El Paso and Taco Bell, exclusively.

    It was enough to make me want to move to Australia and go on a Tex-Mex crusade.

  10. “Tex-Mex is as distinct from Mexican cuisine at this point as Creole is from French. America has produced plenty of dishes, but really only one food culture – Cajun/Creole (yeah I just totally lumped them together). Tex-Mex is emerging as the second.”

    Try telling that to someone from New England. Or Philly. Or California, the Pacific NW, Florida, the rest of the South, Chicago…

    The US is full of amazing and unique food, every region having its own set of influences from the locally available (great natural yeasts in San Francisco for sourdough, incredible seafood on the coasts) to the immigrant populations old and new (German and Scandinavian in the Northern Midwest, Mexican and other points south along the border, Japanese/Chinese/Korean on the West coast).

    Just because you’re from Texas doesn’t mean you should close your eyes or palate to the incredible bounty the rest of the country (and the world, for that matter) has to offer.

  11. Sorry, that sounded kind of rude. What I meant was: it’s great to be proud of where you’re from and the cuisine there, but there are other places to be from and other cuisines that merit the same amount of pride.

  12. I stumbled upon your blog today since I too am from Houston.

    The first thing I noticed were those purple hull peas. Where did you get them? Are they fresh?

    I am a sixth generation East Texas. I picked purple hull and cream peas every summer on my families property.

    I must say that I never ever saw frog legs on our dinner table. Chitlins, Yes. Neck Bones, Yes. Never Frog Legs.

    Great Post.

  13. Deaon Frost said it before I could. The culmination of multiple influences is nothing but the best!

  14. “Now, if you really want to find a city with nothing to offer to the food world look no further than Dallas. Where good taste comes to die.”

    hahahaha!!! funny you agreed with that too. I go to dallas every christmas to visit the husband’s family (and my mom moved there a few years ago too) and the food aspect is never the highlight. yeesh. I’m so glad I ended up being a resident of socal.

  15. I want to go to a french restaurant just so I can ask the waiter, “Do you have frog legs?”

    When he ripostes yes, I’ll succinctly reply, “Don’t worry, your pants cover them up”.

    How drole.

  16. @ Jordan: I buy mine fresh at B&W Meat Co. on Shepherd (between Crosstimbers and Tidwell), but I realize that’s not on the NW side. It’s totally worth the drive, though. Best meat market in town.

    You can get high-quality frozen frog legs a bit closer to your side of town at Super H Mart on Blalock (at Westview). I hope this helps!

  17. Mmmm purple hull peas. I grabbed some fresh ones from the market a few weeks ago and made them with some of Al’s bacon. Reminds me of my grandma.

    Do you know, I’ve never actually HAD frog legs (and yes, I grew up here). They do look rather creepily like tiny dead people halves, but I’d still try them.

  18. We could have been neighbors. Your description of HOuston foods with the mix of cultures is right on. Thanks to my parents and neighbors frog legs, squirrels, crawfish, catfish, and shrimp etc were all regular meals. Don’t remember B W meat mrkt but it was in my neck of woods I guess somewhere around the old northline mall. Cookin some legs tonight in Corsicana tx.

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