One summer, a while back, my parents decided to send me to a summer camp held at an English university. I gained a new nickname «Frog». I tried to understand the surprising sobriquet. I first thought it might be due to a physical resemblance.
Frogs are vertebrates, so am I.
Frogs live on land and in water, so do I.
Frogs have long hind legs that allow them to make big jumps, so have I.
Frogs, especially males, are quite noisy, so am I.
The more I dug, the more I accepted my new nickname, I might be a frog. However a few dissimilarities made me reconsider my kinship.
I don’t feed on tiny aquatic plants, I can’t breathe through my skin, my eyes aren’t that protruding and do not allow me to see in almost all directions.
So, instead of looking for a rational explanation, I just asked away.
I got told, that all French people, due to their habit of eating frog legs were called «Frogs » or «Froggies».
I didn’t know that I was supposed to eat frog legs. I dreamed of trying Harry Potter’s jumping-chocolate-frogs but never actually ate the animal.
The camp ended, and when I got back home I asked my mum to cook some for me. I wanted to truly deserve that nickname.
But the question remained : Despite being seldomly eaten by my fellow frenchmen, why are frogs associated to French cuisine ?
We are certain that the Chinese were already eating frog legs in the 1st century BC. We also know that the Aztecs used this ingredient. But it is only from the 12th century that it became a recurring ingredient in France. The consumption of this food by Christian monks could be what sparked this custom in France. The fact is, that the monks only accepted the meat of land animals, which gave rise to a problem: obesity. They, therefore, introduced a ban on meat, on certain days of the week. This is how the monks began to eat frog legs as if they were fish.
Later, in the 17th century, in his «Great cooking dictionary», Alexandre Dumas, related the story of a man from his native region, who had accumulated a fortune selling frogs to the best restaurants in Paris.
But, it is with the famous French chef, Auguste Escoffier, that frog legs took a culminating place in international «haute cuisine». He added them to many recipes and renamed them «nymphs» to prepare dishes in honor of the Prince of Wales.
That’s how, a monastic tradition, a bit of literature, and a creative chef lead French people to bear an amphibian nickname.