When it comes to cicadas, those inch-sized insects that are blanketing the eastern United States this spring, it turns out they’re actually eminently edible. So when you think of cicadas, think of flavor. Because the point is, they can be delicious.
“I think they’re best when they’re super crisp,” said Elise Harris of Woodbridge, Va., Known in cooking circles as Diva Chef.
Harris has served natural food delicacies at large-scale events from the East Coast of the United States to British Columbia.
This month, she invited CBC News into her kitchen to try a recipe with an exotic flair and to teach us a lesson on the best way to eat bugs.
Indeed, insects have become the “I dare” snack of the year in this country.
Over the past few weeks, the cicadas that are part of what is known as Brood X have emerged en masse from tunnels they dug in the ground 17 years ago. Now in turmoil in some fifteen American states, these particular cicadas constitute the largest cohort of their kind on the planet.
Billions of them congregate in the treetops, covering the walls and littering the sidewalks. Some are even found on the shirt collar of US President Joe Biden.
Harris points out that not only are they plentiful and free to take wherever you find them – all she uses is a good filet on a stick – but they’re also a terrific health food.
Cicadas are low in fat and their protein level compares favorably with that of beef. They are durable and environmentally friendly. What’s not to like?
Keep in mind that while eating them may be unusual in North America, similar insects – such as crickets or grasshoppers – regularly appear in kitchens in many other parts of the world.
WATCH | What is behind the sudden infestation of cicadas in the eastern United States? :
Still not convinced that cicadas are worth a try?
Harris shared with CBC News some tips to make things a little easier.
First, once you’ve caught some live bugs, just put them in a bag, then put them in the freezer overnight. This will gradually slow down their metabolism and they will all die peacefully within a few hours.
“It’s the human way,” she said.
Harris then cuts off the buds and wings and freeze-dried what is left, reducing their bodies to something the size of a bite.
“You eat with your eyes first,” she said, acknowledging that no one wants to run over a juicy creature the size of your nose.
“It’s less intimidating”
And while they always end up looking like bugs, the freeze-dried effect makes them present almost like dried mushrooms or even charred Brussels sprouts.
That way, said Harris, “it’s less intimidating.”
Then, it’s time for the culinary races.
Harris makes cicada tacos, cicada nachos, and even cicada pasta. But for CBC, she tried avocado toast with heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with sautéed cicadas.
And for those bug spray, she had another key tip.
“Flavor is everything when it comes to eating insects,” she told us. “The more flavor the better. “
As the cicadas simmered in the oil, crisping, she added chopped shallots, chili peppers, fresh basil, cilantro and a pinch of salt and pepper, but that was it.
Dropped, so to speak, on the avocado toast – and it was ready to eat. At least he was ready for anyone who had the courage to go. Which of course we absolutely did.
Truth? It was appetizing. Even the bug part. In fact, it was so tasty we even had seconds.
For anyone who now dares to give it a try themselves, Harris gave CBC some of his recipes. (They are at the end of this room.)
But an important caveat: People with allergies to shellfish should avoid.
And before cooking, Harris recommends that cicadas be washed thoroughly – after all, they’ve been underground for almost two decades.
If not, Enjoy your meal!
Cooking the cicadas
By Élise Harris
Harvesting cicadas must be done in the freezer. The cold temperatures slow down the cicadas as if they were preparing to hibernate for another 17 years. After catching them, place them in a plastic bag and in the freezer overnight.
To prepare the cicadas for cooking, I poured them into a colander and rinsed them for a minute or two. All the residual trash like the antenna, stray legs, and dirt was flushed down the drain and then I freeze-dried it to add that extra crunch and crunch. The last step is to sauté them over medium-high heat with the recipe below.
Cicadas (As many as you can catch)
5 ml (1 teaspoon) of salt
5 ml (1 teaspoon) olive oil
2.5 ml (½ teaspoon) black pepper
2 garlic cloves, roasted and chopped
15 ml (1 tbsp.) Diced shallots
15 ml (1 tbsp.) Fresh herbs (parsley, chives, basil)
Avocado toast with cicada
By Élise Harris
For the cicadas:
15 ml (1 tbsp.) Olive oil
15 ml (1 tbsp.) Shallots
5 ml (1 teaspoon) of roasted garlic
15 ml (1 tbsp.) Fresh herbs (parsley, chives)
Salt and pepper to taste
For the 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 crushed
1 Roma tomato, sliced and roasted in the oven
2 slices of multigrain bread, toasted
1. Place the avocado in a bowl and mash it with a fork. Add the lemon juice, salt, pepper and toasted garlic cloves and mix. Stir in the chives and zest and set aside.
2. For the tomatoes, slice and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake at 177 C (350 F) for two minutes.
3. For the cicadas, over medium-high heat, sauté all the ingredients for about a minute until crispy.
4. Assemble the avocado toast, starting with the toast as the bottom layer. Add the roasted tomatoes then your avocado spread. Garnish with cicadas, additional lemon zest and garnish with edible flowers.