Chef Puts Cicadas on Menu (Yes, That's a Bug in Your Soup)

Chef Bun Lai, Miya Sushi

As people along the East Coast are freaking out about this summer's upcoming plague of cicadas, one resourceful Connecticut chef's motto is, "If you can't beat them, eat them."

Yahoo News: East Coast About to Be Overrun by Billions of Cicadas

For Bun Lai, a 2013 James Beard Award nominee and owner of Miya Sushi in New Haven, eating bugs isn't a gross-out or a gimmick. He's committed to using sustainable foods, and his menu includes ingredients such as foraged wild mushrooms and soup made from seaweed he hand harvests. His sushi contains "trash fish," species that are perfectly tasty and edible but not commercially popular and, therefore, are not over fished. He also supplies the restaurant from his own hundred-acre shellfish bed.

More on Yahoo: How to Emotionally Survive the 2012 Cicada Swarmageddon

"I've been dreaming about putting cicadas on the menu for a long time," Lai tells Yahoo! Shine. "There are billions that are going to [emerge] and they are going to be dying anyway. It's not with joy that I kill any animal, but I'm definitely not a vegetarian."

Lai has served insects at his restaurant before and in 2011, he hosted a popular family event at the Peabody Museum that included a cooking demonstration and tasting for kids. He extols the flavor of bugs as well as their small carbon footprint. "If people were less skittish about eating insects, farmers could use a lot less pesticide on their crops," he says. On his blog, he also points out that while two and a half acres of land can only produce 250 pounds of beef, it can produce 2000 pounds of insects.

Lai isn't alone in promoting insects as a sustainable form of edible protein. A recent report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that harvesting more insects for consumption could help improve nutrition worldwide and reduce the environmental impact of farming other types of animals. According to the report, "Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint."

To cook cicadas, Lai draws inspiration from cultures that already enjoy eating insects. While he says the easiest way too cook bugs is to fry them in oil, he points out, "Why take something so inherently healthy and cook it in an unhealthy way?" For a Mexican-style snack, he plans on dehydrating the insects and preserving them in jars. "I would also boil them Maryland crab boil-style, but with Ethiopian spices. Maybe I'd throw in some baby corn. A big pile of spiced cicadas with baby corn would be a beautiful presentation."

Lai was born in Hong Kong to a Japanese mother and Chinese father. "To tip my hat to my own culture," he says, "I'd cook cicadas yakitori style. I'd make a nice teriyaki marinade with local mugwort [a bitter tasting plant used in Eastern cuisine and traditional medicine] and maple syrup and then skewer and grill them."

Cicadas haven't yet emerged in the Connecticut area, so Lai's final recipes are are still in the planning phase. However, during a 2004 cicada invasion, Jenna Jadin, who was then a researcher at the University of Maryland, tested a number of dishes for her Cicada Cookbook.Two recipes are used here with her permission. She warns that although cicadas are eaten all over the world by millions of people, they may have pesticides on them, so consult your doctor before eating.

Collect cicadas early in the morning, just as they are emerging from the earth. You can store them in the refrigerator or freezer. If you can’t find juveniles, which are called tenerals and are especially tender, you can eat mature females. Remove hard parts, such as wings and legs, from the adults. Boil cicadas for 5 minutes to kill any bacteria before using in a recipe.

Photo courtesy Marilyn PociusEmergence Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup shortening

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. vanilla

2 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar 

1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)

1 1/2 cup chocolate chips

1 beaten egg white

About 60 parboiled dry roasted cicadas (roast in 400 degree oven for about 8 minutes so that they retain some moisture)

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, beat shortening with eggs, the 1 1/2 cups sugar, baking powder, and vanilla until well combined, scraping sides of bowl.

2. Gradually stir in flour till thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Cover and chill for 1-2 hours or until dough is easy to handle.

3. Meanwhile, stir together the 1/3 cup sugar and beaten egg white. Place cicadas on waxed paper; brush with egg white mixture and set aside.

4. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on un-greased cookie sheets. Place a cicada on top of each ball, pressing lightly.

5. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes or till edges are set. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Yield: 60 cookies

 

Photo courtesy Marilyn PociusCicada-licious Pizza

Ingredients:

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano

2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil

2 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley

4 cups chopped tomatoes, including juice and seeds

1 1/2 cup coarsely chopped shittake mushrooms

3/4 cup coarsely chopped red onion

3/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped

1 1/2 cups blanched cicadas

1 cup feta cheese

1 cup mozzarella cheese

1 recipe of your favorite pizza dough (for a 12” pizza) or store-bought dough

Directions:

1. Heat oil in sauté pan over medium low heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, or until just beginning to turn golden.

2. Add the herbs and cook for another minute, until wilted.

3. Add the tomatoes and juice, turn the heat to low, and gently cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and the liquid had been absorbed and the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat.

4. Meanwhile,prepare the dough by rolling it out to desired thickness and shaping it into a12” circle. Using a shallow wooden spoon, spread the tomato sauce over the pizza dough to the desired thickness.

5. Distribute the rest of the ingredients evenly over the top of the pizza. 

6. Place pizza in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and the crust is golden brown.

Lai says cicada cuisine is both a nod to the past and a vision of the future. "Historically, the cicada is an insect that Aristotle enjoyed and the Greeks ate—there is tremendous history in that." When he imagines what the future of sustainable food might be like, he says he'd like to see steak houses replaced with insect restaurants. "To me, it's nothing weird at all."

photo by AP
Deep-fried scorpions on a stick in Beijing.
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Thu, May 16, 2013 3:00 PM EDT

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