People scoff, and people squirm – they’re grossed out and disgusted. But really, it’s a fairly regular thing around the world. People eat bugs. If livestock, cattle, and even legumes aren’t readily (cheaply) available to you, your community has found another way to get a source of protein. As a person who has been a vegan in the past and is now (temporarily!) forced to not eat meat, I get it – a human body craves protein. So, bugs it may be! They’re everywhere, they’re cheap, and they’re super high in protein for their size.
So what do they taste like? Not much (at least most of them)- which, of course, means they don’t taste bad. Most of them are crunchy, as you would expect, and usually kind of just taste like what they’re cooked in – which depends on where you get them.
In Oaxaca, Mexico, you can get ants and grasshoppers from big huge baskets at the markets; they are fried and coated in chili and salt. They’re dry, crunchy and taste like nothing much more than chili and salt (which, in itself, isn’t so bad). You can feel their tiny little wiry legs a little. I like it, it’s funky. Oaxacans use them for topping Tlayudas (a local most delicious crispy blue corn tortialla-y specialty topped with refried beans, Oaxacan cheese, and any variety of other items depending on where you are), among other things.
Here in San Francisco, Don Bugito is a local food truck doing tasty treats based on Aztec snacks (the Aztecs ate a lot of larvae-esque bugs). The larvae for the tacos are sauteed in garlic and butter, and are deeee-lelish (but isn’t everything in garlic and butter?). The larvae are not the squishy weird texture that you think they would be, either.
And of course, all over southeast Asia they’re bug crazy! And Thailand just might take the cake.
I think it’s mostly the size of them that’s so intimidating….
Lucky for me, I’m only blocks away from Koreatown and their boastful supermarket and kind-of mini-mall, Koreana Plaza.
Koreana is no Thailand – there are certainly no bugs the size of your fist; but if you’re shopping for something squirmy yet edible, you won’t leave empty handed.
Alright, so I’ll be honest….boiled silkworm larvae isn’t the tastiest bug on Earth…but, it’s reasonable. It’s not disgusting. There are, however, big secrets to cooking them. Just read on and you’ll learn better than I did…Sometimes learning by doing can create quite a mess…. (see photo below)
But if you stick with it, you’ll go from this:
Now don’t tell me that’s not hella classy. Homemade tortilla chips, corn and heirloom tomato salsa, crumbled cotija cheese and one tidy little bug, sauteed in butter, chili powder, tamarind, tequila, garlic, and lime.
For the chips
- one package (give or take, depending on how many you’re feeding) of flour tortillas, cut into 6ths
- ground black pepper
- chili powder
- olive oil
- Toss the cut up tortillas with the olive oil, salt, pepper, chili powder so they’re all well coated. Roast in the oven on a sheet tray at 400 until you see a little bit of browning.
For the Salsa
- 2 ears worth of fresh, de-cobbed corn kernels
- 1/2 red onion, chopped finely
- 1 basket of mixed heirloom cherry/globe tomatoes, cut into halves and quarters (depending on the size)
- a large palmful of cilantro, picked and finely chopped
- 5-6 basil large basil leaves, finely chopped
- 2 jalapenos, oven roasted and seeded, then finely chopped
- 1 decent pinch korean chili flakes
- lots of salt and pepper, to taste
- small sprikle of tequila (to taste)
- Gently mix all the ingredients together, adding salt, pepper and tequila slowly while tasting.
- Preheat your oven to 425 and toss the jalapenos with olive oil and salt – make sure they’re well coated.
- Shove them in the oven on a sheet tray, and let them go for 10-15 minutes or until the skin is browned and bubbly.
- Let cool, then split lengthwise down the middle and the skin should come right off.
- Use the back of your knife or careful hands (that you wash in a serious way right after) to pull the seeds out of the pepper. They should come out very easily in a clump. Depending on how hot you want the salsa, you can leave a couple seeds in there.
- Finely chop the de-skinned, seeded jalapenos and you’re done!
For the bugs
- You know, I wanted to figure out how to merge the obviously Asian/Korean influence of the bugs themselves with some Mexican influence, full of flare. I knew it had to be possible, but I wasn’t sure how. So I searched. I flipped through magazines, I googled and epicurious’ed ideas – and nothing. Finally, I searched through my giant spice cabinet hoping something would pop out at me. It was one big “no, not this” after another. UNTIL! I ran into tamarind. Mexican? Totally – mmm agua de tamarindo – and Asian? Yep, totally dudes and dudettes. Check out an example.
- chili powder
- minced garlic
- tamarind paste (peep at this great guide to using tamarind paste)
1) Drain any water or liquid from the bugs. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a hot sautee pan, and add the tamarind before the butter gets too hot, stir it well to dissolve and equally distribute the tamarind.
2) Once the butter is nice and hot and the tamarind is mostly distributed, add the bugs and minced garlic, give it a quick stir around the pan and then add just enough tequila to get all over the bugs (not enough to make it soupy).
3) Let the alcohol cook off a bit (just a quick couple minutes) and add the rest of your items – a squirt of half a lime or so, a sprinkling of chili powder all over those guys, a pinch of salt, and be sure to have a lid handy because they will start to pop and fly across your kitchen if you don’t. (you saw the picture above, right?)
4) Let them cook for just a hot minute, shaking the pan often.
5) Once browned and just a little crispy, grab a chip, put a spoonful of salsa on it, sprinkle with crumbled cotija cheese and drop a bug or two on that bad boy.
6) And, of course, enjoy!
Things to remember for this recipe:
- When you get these guys in a pan, they pop! Not like whole cranberries pop, but like a grasshopper jumping through weeds. All over the kitchen, exploded and smooshy with silkworm guts. You saw the picture above. So, make sure you use a pan that you have a lid for.
- This generalized recipe should also work for other kinds of bugs or worms that you might find around, which is why I don’t give specific measurements. You can adjust it for how many bugs you have.
So, now that we’re no longer quite as weirded and grossed out (right????) because we get that bugs are a pretty regular part of most of the world’s cultures and we have a nacho recipe to make them delicious in our own home – here’s a little info on why they’re so great….
- Take a look at this chart and compare fish and beef to the protein content and overall nutritional value:
- Fat in lean ground beef is 10g per 100 grams of beef; chicken breast is about 6.5 grams per 100 grams and for broiled cod, it is next to nothing. Look at that compared to the fat content in bugs. They’re seeming pretty healthy, aren’t they?
- They are also easier and cheaper to mass produce and much lighter on our environment; I think we’ve all heard plenty about the damage that livestock production does to the Earth. Bugs, though? They take less space to produce higher protein yields with obviously less resources to farm.
More bugformational links:
Check it all out, and let me know what you think. Enjoy!