How to catch, kill, and cook cicadas
If you haven’t heard, the East Coast is about to be overrun by alien creatures who’ve been buried in the ground, hibernating for the last 17 years. BROOD II is upon us!
It turns out you can actually eat these suckers — and people do, all around the world. Cicadas are chock-full of protein with minimal carbs, and they’re local, seasonal, and eco-friendly. Entomophagists — those who eat insects, but were totally, TOTALLY cool in high school, anyway, so don’t even ask — argue that they’re one of the most sustainable and healthiest food sources on the planet, and that we should all start eating them on the reg. So look upon this not as a zombie-apocalypse, doomsday-type scenario, but as a chance to expand your palate and score a TON of free food right in your backyard.
Of course, you’ll need some guidance on the best ways to catch, kill, and cook ‘em…and what wines to pair them with. We chatted with a few bug-eating experts and one NYC chef who cooks with insects (and made a cicada-fueled recipe JUST FOR US), to get all the info:
Step 1: Catch your prey.
Prepare yourself with multiple large plastic bags and wait for the swarm. When the nymphs (that’s bug-speak for “baby cicadas”) first emerge and shed their exoskeletons, they will be as helpless as a bunch of…well, baby bugs. They’ll also be all-white and kind of squishy, but don’t let that scare you. Seize the opportunity to be a predator and scoop up as many as you can. Early morning is best for catching these guys.
For entomophagists, these little alienoids are actually the creme de la creme of cicada bites: Since their exoskeletons haven’t yet hardened, they’re soft and require minimal cooking. Cicadas at this stage are also purported to have been one of Aristotle’s fave foods, so if you eat them, just be warned that Eurymedon the hierophant will likely denounce you for not holding the gods in honor.
Step 2: Snag some adults.
Wait a few short hours after the nymphs have emerged from their husks, and you’ll notice that they’re rapidly maturing before your very eyes, like Robin Williams in Jack. You only have a short window to snatch these teneral adults before they beat their wings and fly into a tree, out of reach.
Pro tip: Females are better catches than males, because their abdomens are full of eggs. Wait, that’s not as gross as it sounds! It just means that lady-cicadas will be more plump and delicious for eating. (Males tend to shrink during cooking. INSERT CLASSIC GUY VS. GIRL CICADA STAND-UP COMEDY HERE.) As it’s super difficult to tell guys from girls, you should gather a little more than you think you might need.
Step 3: Death
Now comes the hard part. Or the fun part, depending on how comfortable you are with BUG MURDER! The simplest and most humane method: freezing them to death. Stuff your plastic bags ‘o bugs into the freezer, or even a large cooler filled with ice, and the buggies will fall into a peaceful, eternal sleep…just in time for you to chop them up and devour them while cackling madly to yourself.
Step 4: Get cookin’.
Cicadas are often compared to shellfish, since they’re in the same family. (Jeopardy answer: What are arthropods? ALSO: DO NOT EAT THESE IF YOU’RE ALLERGIC TO SHELLFISH.) So think of the lil’ guys as “shrimp of the land” and cook thusly. Just give them a little rinse; there’s no need to de-wing or de-leg, unless those bits freak you out. In which case, you do realize you’re eating cicadas, right?
Dave Gracer, a Colbert Report-appearing entomophagy expert who sources insects for people to cook with, advises staying away from sauteing the bugs, which makes them taste like “a cross between leather and plastic.” His favorite method is to season ‘em up with salt and spices, toss with some olive oil, and bake them until they’re nice and crunchy. You can sprinkle them over salads (cicada croutons), mix them into pastas, or just pop them in your mouth like cicadacorn, which will now become a thing. Note: Gracer recommends a nice chardonnay or wheat beer, if you’re doing cicada & booze pairings. Which will now also become a thing.
Lou Sorkin, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History, will be deep-frying and stuffing them into cicada sandos, as one would with fish or crab. He also likes to roast up a batch, then top them with spices — or powdered sugar, if you have a sweet tooth. Seriously. These are all things he does.
For dessert, you could make like Missouri ice cream shop Sparky’s and boil them, drench them in chocolate, and stir them into your favorite flavor of ice cream.
Regina Galvanduque, co-founder of traditional Mexican restaurant Antojeria la Popular in New York (where one can order their specialty, a cricket-topped tostada), finds cicadas not dissimilar to the grasshoppers that are eaten every day in her home country. She’s crafted up a recipe just for us that’s a version of her grandmother’s “green rice,” traditionally prepared with crickets, though cicadas can easily substitute. So stop making that lame coq au vin and listen up:
Arroz Verde a la Mexicana con Chapulines (Mexican Green Rice with Crickets)
Ingredients (serves 8)
- .5 cup of parsley
- .75 cup of cilantro
- .5 cup of epazote
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 cans of chicken broth
- 1.5 cups white rice
- .25 cup oil
- 2 roasted diced poblano chiles (or more if you want)
- 1 thinly sliced serrano chile without seeds
- .25 white onion chopped
- 1 small diced zucchini (optional)
- 1 cup white corn (can be yellow)
- 1 cup diced carrot
- 1 avocado
- diced queso fresco (as needed)
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- White wine
- Boiled crickets or cicadas
- Blend the parsley, cilantro, epazote, serrano chile, garlic, and half the chicken broth until smooth.
- Pour oil into large, heavy frying pan over medium heat, add rice.
- Lightly brown the rice, stirring often to prevent sticking. Add chiles and onion; continue cooking, stirring often, until onions are translucent.
- Add broth mixture from blender and continue to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
- Add zucchini, white corn, carrot, remaining broth, white wine, and salt; stir well.
- As soon as rice comes to a full boil, turn heat to low and cover for 20 minutes.
- Stir before serving.
- Can be cooked similarly to the crickets, which is to boil them first, then toast them in a pan or bake them with salt and lime.
- Top rice with avocado, cooked cicadas, and diced queso fresco. Have incredibly sexy dinner party!