First of all, I want to apologize about the sink-trap basket full of desiccated insect wings you found in the kitchen when you came home.
Secondly, I’d like to beg forgiveness for the Tupperware container full of risotto that, on first glance, looked like it might make for a quick and easy dinner for you and the kids, but that on second glance looked like the grill of a Buick after a long trip.
Thirdly, I’d suggest you not look inside that aluminum foil packet toward the back of the fridge. Yes, those are tiny eyes staring back at you from between grilled tomatoes, zucchini spears and asparagus stalks.
But let me be clear as I extend my humblest apology: I’d do it all again. I cannot tell a lie. I love cicadas. And I’m not alone. I arrived at work late last week certain that I‘d make a believer out of someone. Anyone.
So I put out the all-call on the office intercom. In the arena of strong opening statements, there aren’t many openers much stronger than “Who wants to eat some bugs?” And like plucking a newly emerged cicada nymph from the ground before its wings dry and afford them escape, I snatched up my fellow Richmond mag writer, Harry Kollatz Jr.
Before he could reconsider, I whisked Harry to our kitchen, handed him an alcoholic beverage and entrusted him to safeguard a cooler full of about 100 creepy-crawly bugs recently procured from a West End neighborhood while I prepped the rest of the ingredients.
There’s really little effort needed to make a meal out of cicadas. When lightly refrigerated, and if captured while the early morning dew still clings to their still-gossamer wings, they hardly resist as you pluck them clean.
Harry, though initially repulsed, soon shared my enthusiasm, especially after consuming a hard ginger beer or two. Plus, a little salt fixes anything. And in the case of cicadas, it doesn’t just fix the dish, it provides a flavor revelation. Cicadas, in case you’re not aware, are known by those of more refined tastes as the “shrimp of the dirt."
Though after having become enlightened myself, I’d have to amend that and suggest “soft-shell crab of the dirt” might be more appropriate. Or maybe “soft-shell crab with gentle undertones of roadside boiled peanuts of the dirt.”
And precedent is on my side. The ancient Greeks ate them even as they helped birth the world’s first democracy. In Asia, they remain prominent in herbal medicine. If only you could see my way, I just know you’d come around. LuckY for you and for your kitchen, the next noisy bloom is a long 17 years away.
Till then, this couch makes for a remarkably comfortable night’s sleep.
Yours eternally, Chris
Recipe: Grilled Cicadas with Summer Veggies (Serves 4)
- 15 to 20 fresh cicadas
- 2 zucchini or summer squash, quartered lengthwise
- 12 asparagus spears, woody ends snapped off
- 12 yellow cherry tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- Salt, to taste
Prepare the vegetables and arrange on a sheet of aluminum foil. Arrange the cicadas on the sheet interspersed among the vegetables. Reconsider McDonalds as a legitimate lunch option as you watch the cicadas crawl slowly among veggies. Drizzle with olive and sprinkle liberally with salt. Cover with a second sheet of aluminum foil and crimp the edges to create a packet. Place on the grill at medium heat and close the grill. Cook approximately 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. The cicadas will be dead.
Recipe: Cicada and Saffron Risotto (Serves 4 — or 2 if Harry Kollatz Jr. is with you)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 stalks of celery, diced
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 1/2 cups of chicken stock
- 12 to 15 cicadas, wings plucked
- 1 cup of Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- 4 to 5 strands of saffron
In a medium pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and add the onions and celery. Sauté until soft. Add the Arborio rice. Coat in the olive oil and lightly toast the rice. Do not brown. Add chicken stock to cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir constantly until liquid begins to absorb. Add more stock a little at a time and continue to stir and reduce the mixture until the rice becomes tender. After half of stock is used, add the saffron strands and continue stirring and adding more stock. When the rice is nearly done, add the cicadas. Contemplate life and death as cicadas briefly crawl around in risotto before succumbing to their now-slightly creamy fate. Add any remaining liquid and continue stirring until the liquid is absorbed, and the cicadas appear parboiled. Remove from the heat, and carefully stir in Parmesan cheese. Serve.