Anything with bullfrog can prove a hit
October 25, 2019
Bullfrog, with its light taste and tender texture between chicken and fish, is a crowd-favorite delicacy in Shanghai and across China all year round.
Deep-fried bullfrog makes a sumptuous snack that packs different flavors perfectly. Stir frying or braising the meat in a rich sauce can make dishes that are perfect to pair with a bowl of rice or noodles, and fresh bullfrog is always welcomed in spicy hotpot dishes.
Essentially, anything with bullfrog taking the lead role has the potential to become a hit in the market.
In 2017, people were spending hours waiting for a seat at restaurants that specialize in bullfrog hotpot. Gelaoguan, the Shanghai hotpot franchise famous for its bullfrog and fish head hotpot, was the most popular.
The same year, the bullfrog craze led to the unexpected creation of bullfrog mooncake. The Shanghai First Food Chain’s bullfrog and Chinese sauerkraut mooncake that stuffs a whole deboned bullfrog leg in the filling sold out quickly every day.
Last year, the bullfrog trend moved on to something more spectacular: double-deck bullfrog pot served in a traditional copper hotpot heated over charcoal. A few kilos of bullfrog meat is braised in rich sauces and some thick noodles can also be cooked in the copper hotpot after finishing the meat and vegetables. Some restaurants also do combinations like one layer of crayfish pot and another one of bullfrog meat.
“When my friends and I decide on what to eat, we often go for bullfrog hotpot because fresh bullfrog meat is very delicious and more interesting than beef or chicken, and hotpot offers a wide range of options for different people. The juicy bullfrog meat is best when it’s boiled in spicy, sizzling broth, which I prefer over deep-fried ones because those tend to dry up a little,” said Wu Xiaoya, a 29-year-old who has been living in Shanghai for four years and loves bullfrog meat.
Raw bullfrog is available in many Sichuan-style hotpot restaurants, the whole, fresh bullfrogs are always better since one can clearly see the quality of the ingredient.
Bullfrog is an ideal protein that’s low in calories and fat. It has the ability to soak in and absorb all the flavors from the sauce or broth, and the light flavor makes it a star that can easily take on different roles in cooking. The sauce is often rich, heavy and spiced to stimulate the appetite, and underneath the freshly butchered bullfrog meat are vegetables such as onion, lettuce or bean sprouts, which soak up the delicious flavors of the broth and bullfrog even more.
Before the bullfrog hotpot trend, the meat was mostly deep-fried and seasoned with peppercorn salt as a street food snack or fried and then stir-fried in a wok alongside other vegetables and meats to make a “dry pot” dish. Now, bullfrog is incorporated in all kinds of cuisine, such as whole bullfrog skewers from the cold Sichuan-style skewer dish or deep-fried bullfrog that’s then coated in salted egg yolk for a richer flavor.
Bullfrog noodle is an ordinary delicacy that offers a quick treat. The fresh meat is stir-fried with green chilis in a thick gravy-like sauce and then put on top of soup noodles. Alternative options include rice or rice cakes for those who are not in the mood for noodles. Noodle houses such as Fu Gui and Haling are experts in bullfrog noodle dishes. The portion is usually very large and the flavor of the bullfrog is best enjoyed with some level of spiciness. Bullfrog rice or rice cakes are better for delivery though, since the noodles can become sticky during transport.
Bullfrogs live in freshwater marshes, ponds and farmland. They breed in spring and early summer and hibernate in winter. The males die soon after mating, which contributes to seasonal shortages and high prices.
Before bullfrogs became a sensation, the meat had a very limited following and those that couldn’t be sold fresh were frozen and sold cheaply. Now, high demand has solved the problem and freezing bullfrog meat is often not necessary. The growing popularity of bullfrog has led to increased bullfrog farming.
Compared to traditional livestock, poultry and fish, bullfrog is still a more novel protein for most people, who often prefer to dine out to enjoy bullfrog rather than buy fresh and cook at home.
Without seeing the raw meat in person, it’s important to choose credible restaurants or vendors since there are several risks in eating bullfrog. First, bullfrog farming is both highly lucrative and high risk. Because the bullfrogs are raised at a high density, diseases can cause full-scale destruction of the population, and using antibiotics in farming can also lead to an inconsistent and unsafe quality. Unhealthy bullfrog meat should not be consumed and can cause illnesses.
Bullfrog farming can also pollute the environment and farmland. If the farm is not equipped with bio-safety disposal facilities, it may be closed down. The farmland can also be affected by bullfrog farming and may not be ploughed easily after three to five years of raising the animals.
Bullfrogs must be fully cooked before they can be eaten, so the safe thing to do is to boil them in the hotpot for a longer time.
Another issue related to eating bullfrog is mistaking toads for edible bullfrogs. Sometimes, toads are even sold as bullfrogs for higher prices.
People in some places in China have a tradition of eating toads. In Shanghai, there’s a dish called xunlasi commonly found in the suburbs and villages in Jinshan, Qingpu and other areas, which are skinless and headless toads that are braised and smoked.
As food, toads are not as safe as bullfrogs, because their skin is highly toxic and cooking toads must be done properly. There have been cases of toad poisoning in the past.
In 2014, a family of three in Fushun County in Zigong, a city in Sichuan Province, tried skinless toads after hearing it was okay to eat them. One person died and another two were poisoned.
A few recommendations
As the hotpot that brought bullfrogs to a much higher level of popularity, Gelaoguan remains a favorite destination in frog cuisine. The spicy hotpot features fresh bullfrogs and fish heads, both can be added refilled for a price.
Classic hotpot dishes such as goose intestine, beef tripe and duck tongue are also not to be missed.
Address: multiple locations
Huo Shao Yun
As one of the highly sought-after restaurants in Shanghai, Huo Shao Yun continues to attract diners willing to wait hours for a table.
The restaurant’s signature copper pot series includes a bullfrog dish that stews a few kilos of fresh bullfrog meat in a spicy broth filled with tomatoes, luffa, needle mushrooms and konjak.
Additional toppings can also be added and the spicy level here is very high – mild spicy is already quite strong for people who cannot handle the heat very well.
Address: 6/F, Crystal Galleria, 68 Yuyuan Rd
Paradise Classic is a Chinese restaurant with a nostalgic taste of Nanyang-inspired traditional recipes and cooking style from the South East Asia region, they have a few creative bullfrog dishes such as kung pao bullfrog and white pepper bullfrog, the frog meat is very tender and the rich flavor is at the top end.
Address: 10/F, L+Mall, 899 Pudong Rd South