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A story about cooking cicadas? Not from me

Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Variety Menu

Cicadas are plentiful, and they are full of protein. And that is why, every time cicadas start to emerge from the ground, food writers delightedly churn out stories about how we all ought to try eating them.

Well, not me. I’ve never been one for jumping on bandwagons. And a bandwagon involving the consumption of large flying insects appeals to me even less than ordinary, insect-free bandwagons.

I understand the appeal of such articles. It’s an unusual topic, for one, or it would be if every other food writer in the eastern half of the United States were not covering it.

Plus, cicadas are loud and annoying. The idea of eating them seems like a particularly satisfying form of revenge.

But they’re insects. No one is going to eat them. You can’t even think about it without picturing wings and little legs stuck in your teeth. And then there is the whole matter of the sound of the crunch. I’m not even going to get into the sound of the crunch.

Many of the stories that are not going to be written by me will suggest that cicadas should be ground up into some form of meal that can be sent to countries where the population does not get enough protein. But does anyone ever bother to ask people in those countries if they want to get their protein through ground-up insect meal?

I don’t even know how you could make it sound palatable.

Fricassée d’insectes hachés? Cicada carbonara? Impossible burger?

I know that cicadas are not, in fact, locusts. They aren’t even particularly similar to locusts. But let’s be real: In our hearts, cicadas are locusts. And locusts aren’t something to eat, locusts are something God visits upon our enemies as a plague.

So I was surprised and slightly disgusted when an old friend posted on Facebook that he was looking for people to give him all the cicadas they could collect, so he could eat them.

Chris Dovi was a newspaper colleague in Richmond, Virginia; he now runs a nonprofit organization to boost computer science education for children from kindergarten through 12th grade. Several years ago, he wrote a story for Bon Apétit magazine (and also Richmond Magazine) about cooking cicadas, and he was hooked.

I called to ask if he were totally nuts.

“They taste like a combination of soft-shell crabs and boiled peanuts,” he says, naming one incredible delicacy and also boiled peanuts. I hate boiled peanuts, and I told him so.

 

“They tend to be an acquired taste that most people don’t want to acquire,” he says of the peanuts, which are popular in South Carolina for some reason.

Cicadas taste like shrimp, he says, and I am not going to do what it would take to dispute him.

Dovi is of Italian heritage, so he cooked up one batch in a risotto, with garlic, Parmesan cheese and vegetable stock (“I was trying to preserve the cicada flavor, so I didn’t want to use chicken stock, which would overpower it”).

He also asked three locally famous chefs to use cicadas to make restaurant-worthy meals. He swears they all succeeded.

One chef made kung pao cicadas. Another served cicadas in street tacos (“That chef also tried to make them into a sausage. That was extremely unsuccessful. That was gross. That was nasty”).

And the third made shrimp and grits, “but obviously without the shrimp. With cicadas. That was extremely tasty. The cicadas really shined,” he says.

Dovi stresses that cicadas are only good when they have just emerged from the ground, when the wings and the carapace have not yet dried. The wings have to be removed and discarded before cooking.

And there is another consideration that he reluctantly mentions: zombie sex fiend cicadas.

Scientists warn that something less than 5% of the cicadas will emerge with a sexually transmitted white fungus that eventually replaces up to a third of their bodies and makes them try to mate with more cicadas than usual before it kills them.

No one knows much about the fungus, but it could potentially be toxic. Meanwhile, Dovi suggests that Zombie Cicadas would be a good name for a band.

Dovi is not dissuaded. He says cicadas are so good they even have their own culinary nickname, “the shrimp of the dirt.”

“They obviously have a marketing problem,” he says.


©2024 STLtoday.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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