Yes, eating insects is disgusting. Not the actual eating part — I had some fried grasshoppers in Laos that were, well, sublime is not an overstatement. But I didn't have to cook them. Cooking insects is a whole other barrel of fish, to mix metaphors. But the brave new world of entomophagy is all the rage, so this Halloween, why not serve up a dish that will put your cousin's "zombie hand" gelatin dessert to shame?
Insects are easy to prepare, inexpensive to buy and an environmentally responsible source of protein. They are a staple food across the globe, and quickly gaining ground in fashionable restaurants here in the U.S. So why don't we eat them? It's probably the ick factor. I mean, they're bugs. But, really, how much ickier are they than your average cut of low-quality meat? And — important point here — if you're afraid of them tasting gross, guess what? They taste like whatever it is you cook them in. Garlic and onion crickets? Oh yes. Wasabi grubs? Yes, please. Chocolate fondue grasshoppers? Yes, yes, yes!
Here's your quick and dirty guide to your next bug buffet:
Crickets: Crickets smell bad and they make a lot of noise. But they're easy to obtain, as most pet stores carry them as food for reptiles. My sources at the Fortuna Pet Shoppe say they have a surprising number of people interested in cricket cuisine. If you stick them in the fridge for an hour before go time, it should slow them down.
Grasshoppers: Easy to catch in the high grass during late summer. Meaty, crunchy and delicious, they're very versatile insects. (See recipe.)
Grubs/larvae/mealworms: If you want to avoid the more ... textured experience of eating a multi-legged critter, grubs or larvae are a good choice. You can fry them over low heat with your favorite spices, add them to a soup or dehydrate them. Crispy grubs make an excellent snack on the go, and they're much more interesting than almonds!
Spiders: There's a little town halfway between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia that's famous for its fried spiders. Unfortunately, I got there off-season and had to eat grubs instead. Some spiders, obviously, are poisonous. Do your research — special orders might be the way to go. Also, biting into the body of a spider means having its guts gush into your mouth like the worst bon-bon ever. Proceed with caution.
Cockroaches: I am never going to eat a cockroach. I have standards. But they and certain species of beetles are said to be excellent roasted over a fire like popcorn.
Slugs: Difficult to cook but some are apparently edible! I am told they have a consistency similar to tilapia. All we need are a few motivated slug wranglers, and Humboldt is poised to corner the artisan market on these slimy delicacies.
These make a fine addition to your favorite burrito fixings. There should be just enough beans and salsa to complement the crunchiness of the bugs, but not enough of anything to overpower their presence.
Ingredients and method:
Okay, this is where we get to the disgusting part about eating bugs. There is no good way to kill a grasshopper prior to cooking it, so you have to channel your inner 7-year-old boy and torture the poor hoppers before throwing them into the pan. Fortunately, I had a 7-year-old boy at my disposal, my nephew, who was enraptured with the process. You need about half a coffee can of insects to make this dish. (I experimented with this recipe prior to learning about putting them in the fridge first, and I couldn't figure out how to measure with them jumping around in panic.)
Heat up about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan, and add the spices of your choice.
Once the oil is hot, prepare the grasshoppers. Brace yourself: You need to tear off their inedible wings prior to throwing them in the pan. They will squirm and die, and then their meaty interiors will burst out of their exoskeletons from the heat. I'm so sorry, but how do you think your hamburger got made? Meat ain't pretty.
The grasshoppers must be prepared quickly in order to cook them evenly. I recommend having one person poised with the fork to turn them in the pan and take the cooked ones out, while another de-wings them and throws them to their death.
Sprinkle with salt and cayenne pepper and enjoy!
Should you be willing to overlook child labor laws, my nephew is available for hire.