Nicholas Berg

Cooking with Bugs

According to the BBC, young cicadas taste like canned asperagus. And if you are into that sort of thing, because we are expecting a large hatching of 17-year cicadas in the Northeast, this summer will be a time of good eating:

It makes things easier for people who like to eat them - young cicadas are said to taste like canned asparagus.

But curious diners should take advantage of the glut as the next monster swarm is due in 2021.

Gee. It never would have occurred to me to wonder how they would taste. Seventeen years ago, when the last cicada swarm occurred, I was living in Brooklyn. No one mentioned eating them. I guess I missed out.

For those at a loss as to how to cook them, the Washington Post (back on April 16th) offered a few helpful suggestions: one easy way to serve cicada is apparently sauted with butter and parsley.

To harvet your prey, the WP suggests the following method:

There they will molt, taking about an hour to squeeze out of their dust-colored skins. Once they have broken free, it is your moment to strike: Pluck the creamy white adults off the trees. Gather as many as you desire for the culinary adventures ahead. Admire their red eyes and furled wings.

Do hurry. The exoskeletons of the newly molted adults will turn black within about 12 hours and harden over the next couple days. Once that happens, the cicadas remain eminently edible but they lose their soft-shell cachet. They're also easier to apprehend in their just-molted stage. 

And here's a more elaborate thought:

At Fahrenheit, a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Georgetown, cicadas almost made the menu this year. "The soft-shelled cicada, it's done just like a soft-shelled crab," says executive chef Frank Belosic, describing how freshly molted cicadas should be rolled in flour, pan-fried in olive oil, and finished with a sauce of white wine, butter and shallots. Served as an appetizer, the dish would have cost diners $10 or so.

But for those truly interested, Amazon offers a number of coockbooks on cooking with bugs: Eat-A-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon, Creepy Crawly Cuisine: The Gourmet Guide to Edible Insects by Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, photographs by Peter Menzel, and Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects by Peter Menzel & Faith D'Aluisio. There is also a YA novel on this subject, Beetles, Lightly Toasted by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

I haven't yet decided to bring up this subject with my children, though Elizabeth may discover the delights of cicada on her own.

UPDATE: Check out the Washington Post's Cicadacam! Don't they look yummy?