How to cook the perfect cicada

·5 min read
Cicadas are adding a crispy crunch to dishes like avocado toast after the thumb-sized bugs began emerging en masse in the eastern United States this spring, becoming the 'I dare you' snack of the year in the country.  (Sumayya Tobah/CBC - image credit)
Cicadas are adding a crispy crunch to dishes like avocado toast after the thumb-sized bugs began emerging en masse in the eastern United States this spring, becoming the 'I dare you' snack of the year in the country. (Sumayya Tobah/CBC - image credit)

Forget their looks. Ignore their beady little red eyes and set aside their glistening wings and jet-black shell. Just close your eyes and take a bite.

When it comes to cicadas, those thumb-sized bugs blanketing the eastern United States this spring, it turns out they're actually eminently edible.

So when you think cicadas, think flavour. Because the fact is — they can be delicious.

"I think they're best when they're extra crispy," said Elise Harris of Woodbridge, Va., who's known in cooking circles as the Diva Chef.

Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press
Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press

Harris has served up health food delicacies at high-profile events from the U.S. East Coast through to British Columbia.

This month, she invited CBC News into her home kitchen to try out a recipe with a bent for the exotic and to give us a lesson in how to best eat bugs.

WATCH | The benefits of eating cicadas:

Indeed, the insects have become the "I-dare-you" snack of the year in this country.

During the past few weeks, the cicadas that are part of so-called Brood X have emerged en masse from tunnels they'd dug into the ground 17 years ago. Now buzzing about in some 15 U.S. states, these particular cicadas make for the largest cohort of its kind on the planet.

Billions of them are clustering on treetops, covering walls and littering sidewalks. Some are even finding their way onto the shirt collar of U.S. President Joe Biden.

Alex Brandon/The Associated Press
Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

Harris underlines that not only are they plentiful and free for the taking wherever you find them — all she uses is a good net on a stick — but they're also a terrific health food.

Cicadas are low in fat and their protein level compares favourably with beef. They're sustainable and environmentally friendly. What's not to love?

Keep in mind that although eating them may be unusual in North America, similar insects — for example crickets or grasshoppers — show up regularly in cuisines in many other parts of the world.

WATCH | What's behind the sudden cicada infestation in eastern U.S.?:

Still not convinced cicadas are worth a try?

Harris shared with CBC News a few tips to make it all go down a little easier.

First off, once you've caught some live bugs, just put them in a bag and then into a freezer overnight. That'll gradually slow down their metabolism and they'll all die peacefully within a few hours.

Paul Hunter/CBC
Paul Hunter/CBC

"It's the humane way," she said.

Harris then cuts off the heads and wings and freeze-dries what's left, which shrinks their bodies into something bite-sized.

"You eat with your eyes first," she said, recognizing that no one wants to chomp down on a juicy-looking creature the size of your nose.

'It's less intimidating'

And though they still end up looking like bugs, the freeze-dry effect makes them present almost like dried mushrooms or even charred brussels sprouts.

This way, said Harris, "it's less intimidating."

Then it's off to the culinary races.

Sumayya Tobah/CBC
Sumayya Tobah/CBC

Harris makes cicada tacos, cicada nachos, even cicada pasta. But for CBC, she tried avocado toast with heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with sautéed cicadas.

And for those insect sprinkles, she had one more key tip.

"Flavour is everything when it comes to eating bugs," she told us. "The more flavour the better."

So as the cicadas simmered in oil, crisping up, she added chopped shallots, chili peppers, fresh basil, cilantro and a dash of salt and pepper, but that was all.

Laid to rest, as it were, on top of the avocado toast — and it was ready to eat. At least it was ready for anyone with the courage to go for it. Which of course we absolutely did.

Truth? It was mouth-watering. Even the bug part. In fact, it was so tasty we even had seconds.

For all those who might now themselves dare give it a try, Harris has given CBC a couple of her recipes. (They're at the end of this piece.)

But an important word of caution: Those with an allergy to shellfish should avoid.

And before cooking, Harris recommends the cicadas be thoroughly washed — after all they've been underground for nearly two decades.

Otherwise, bon appétit!

Cooking cicadas

By Elise Harris

Harvest

Harvesting cicadas should be done in the freezer. The cold temperatures slow down the cicadas like they are preparing for hibernation another 17 years. After you catch them, place them in a plastic baggie and in the freezer overnight.

Preparation

To get the cicadas ready to cook, I poured them into a strainer and rinsed them off for a minute or two. Any residual garbage like antenna, stray legs and dirt were rinsed away down the drain and then I freeze-dried them to add that extra crisp and crunch. Last step is to sauté them over medium-high heat with the below recipe.

Ingredients

Cicadas (As many as you can catch)
5 ml (1 tsp.) salt
5 ml (1 tsp.) olive oil
2.5 ml (½ tsp.) black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, roasted and chopped
15 ml (1 Tbsp.) tablespoon shallots diced
15 ml (1Tbsp.) fresh herbs (parsley, chives, basil)

Cicada avocado toast

By Elise Harris

For cicadas:

15 ml (1 Tbsp.) olive oil
15 ml (1 Tbsp.) shallots
5 ml (1 tsp.) roasted garlic
15 ml (1 Tbsp.) fresh herbs (parsley, chives)
Salt and pepper to taste

For avocado spread:

1 small firm avocado
15 ml (1 Tbsp.) fresh lemon juice
15 ml (1 Tbsp.) lemon zest
15 ml (1 Tbsp.) fresh chives
Kosher salt to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste
3 garlic cloves, roasted and smashed
1 roma tomato, sliced and oven-roasted
Edible flowers
2 slices of multigrain bread, toasted

Directions

1. Scoop avocado into a bowl and mash with fork. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper and roasted garlic cloves and mix together. Fold in chives and zest and set aside.

2. For the tomatoes, slice and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven at 177 C (350 F) for two minutes.

3. For cicadas, over medium-high heat, sauté all ingredients for about one minute until crisp.

4. Assemble avocado toast, starting with toast as your bottom layer. Add roasted tomatoes and then your avocado spread. Top with cicadas, additional lemon zest and garnish with edible flowers.

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