When David George Gordon, author of the Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, started doing insect cooking demos in 1998, he’d ask the audience how many of them had eaten a bug before. Three out of a hundred people would raise their hands. Today, that number is generally closer to 50. The reason is simple: Bugs are no longer relegated to reality television gross-out competitions and National Geographic specials. Entomophagy (bug-eating) is more trendy than it is taboo.
At least 30 restaurants in America have bug on the menu intentionally. Many of the dishes are stand-alones designed to ride the novelty wave – Oaxacan grasshoppers are a sure sign of trend-chasing – but plenty aren’t. Two cricket-based energy bars have launched in the past three years (Chapul and Exo) and Gordon has met several dedicated bug chefs plying their trade around the country.
If bug food is spreading beyond a niche interest, it’s probably because it just makes sense. As the UNFAO has been touting since it released a report last May on the potential of insect farming to address global hunger, bugs are a massively untapped, easily reared, and extremely nutritious food source. They contain up to three times the energy and protein per ounce than red meat, consume one-fifth the feed of larger animals, and give off 20 to 60 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than cattle.
And they’re everywhere. Chefs have to date recorded 1,462 edible species of insects and arachnids that could be used to address world hunger. For the layman looking to experiment in the kitchen, numerous companies like Worm Man’s Worm Farm, Grubco, Bassett’s Cricket Ranch, Fluker Farms, and World Ento now sell pre-prepared and kitchen-ready crickets, mealworms, and waxworms. World Ento has even introduced a “Chocolate Chirp” baking mix and protonated cricket flours. But, Gordon points out, these companies are all basing their hygienic standards and insect rearing on the methods used by Petco and Petsmart. So it’s just as easy for the everyday (but frugal) cook to go down to the local pet shop, buy a bag of insects, freeze them for a day to kill them, rinse them off, and then roast them on a low heat on a cookie sheet in the oven for five minutes, and then have a batch of cooking-ready bugs.
Most of the substantial bug dishes one will read about are meant to sound exotic and confusing to stress the oddity of eating bugs. These dishes – Japanese fly larvae sautéed in sugar and soy with candied grasshoppers and wasp crackers, Balinese de-winged dragonfly in coconut milk with ginger and garlic, or Venezuelan fire-roasted goliath tarantulas – are daunting to novice bug chefs. But there are many hearty, palatable, and simple bug dishes as well.
Gordon recommends those with an inclination towards the entomological start by trying his signature dish:
Ingredients (Yields 6 servings)
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup orzo
- ½ cup grated carrot
- ¼ cup finely diced red bell pepper
- ¼ cup finely diced green bell pepper
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup chopped yellow onion
- 1 cup frozen two- to five-week-old cricket nymphs, Thawed*
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- Sliced almonds
1. Bring the broth to a boil, then stir in the orzo.
2. Continue boiling the orzo until it is tender, about 10 minutes; drain any extra liquid, then quickly add the carrot and red and green peppers. Mix evenly and set aside.
3. In a separate skillet, melt the butter and add the garlic, onion, and crickets. Sauté briefly until the onions are translucent and the garlic and crickets have browned.
4. Combine the cricket mixture, including any liquid, with the orzo and vegetables. Top with parsley and serve.
* Although any crickets will do, the nymphs are ideal. Though their bodies are large and meaty they lack wings and have underdeveloped limbs at this stage in life, meaning they’ll be tender, versus an adult cricket, which carries more natural roughage on its body.
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