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Chef Elise Wiggins of Panzano Talks Frog-Hunting

Elise Wiggins
Elise Wiggins
Photo: Adam Larkey

Who are the Denver FIVE? Eater has heard the question many times. The short answer is a group of five highly-skilled and well-recognized local chefs who represent the city's culinary scene on a national level. This year's class includes Elise Wiggins, executive chef of Panzano, Aniedra Nichols, executive chef of Elway's Cherry Creek, Carrie Shore, executive chef of Table 6, Nadine Donovan, pastry chef at Old Major, and Jenna Johansen, innovation chef at Epicurean Catering.

There are things about these women that are not in their bios. That's what this feature is about. Today, Elise Wiggins talks about going frog-hunting.

My first memory of frog hunting was when I was 5. I grew up in the south so hunting and fishing is a way of life, even for girls. My daddy is the one who taught me everything I know about hunting and fishing. He's like Bear Garillus. He can hunt anything and he wanted to instill that in us girls and my brother when he came along later. He would take my sister and I who is 2 years older than I, out on overnight trips to go fishing and frog giggin'. The best time to catch fish was late night or early morning. It all depends on what your fishing or hunting for. My dad always was efficient with our time when we were out on the water late at night. We were either dropping catfish lines or we'd pass the time….gigging frogs.

I loved it all but really enjoyed the giggin' part. You would have to use a 9 foot long cane pole that had a trident fork at the end. One person would use the high beam light and flash it towards the lilly pads. This would make the frogs freeze. That's when the other person would stand up in the boat and throw the gig at a particular frog. But the key to good giggin is the size of the frog. You want the big ones because obviously they have bigger legs and more meat so you'd listen first for the loudest deepest croak. This is where you'd focus and try figure out which set of eyes is the big boy. You always had to make sure that the eyes that you were aiming at were white if they were red then that was a snake and often water moccasins where I'm from. Then you would do your best to stick 'em. It's actually quite a feat to stick a frog. You can't get too close to them because they will spook and dive down in the water. So you are throwing sometimes 20 feet. You'd know when you hit your target because they make this make this grrick sound.

The next part was always the scary part. Going to get the frog out of the water. You always wanted to make sure that you knew where the snakes were and as my daddy always said "make sure that you don't grab ole no shoulders." Scared me half to death but he was always so calm about things like that.

Then after the evening of hunting, we would take our catch back home and "clean" the frogs or fabricate to us chefs. He taught us how to cut the skin around the head, use a pair of pliers and "take his clothes off" ...pull his skin right off. Then, we'd cut the legs away. We then would remove the guts and he should us a trick with the nerves that were on the back of the frogs spine. If you ran your knife up and down the nerves it would make the frog's legs do the jig. My mother was horrified.

After all the cleaning, we'd soak the legs in butter milk to dry out the blood and tenderize them, then bread them in flour and fry them up.

The second 2014 FIVE dinner will take place on Monday, May 19 at Panzano starting at 6 p.m. There will be a cocktail reception followed by a five-course wine dinner created by the five chefs, along with wine pairings by Travis Plakke and Brian Smith. Tickets are $75 per person and can be purchased online.

· the Denver FIVE Unveils New Class of All Women Chefs [EDen]
· Nadine Donovan of Old Major on Her PBR Tattoo [EDen]
· The Denver FIVE Cook at the James Beard House Tonight [EDen]
· The Denver FIVE Announces Class of 2013 [EDen]


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