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How (and Why) to Cook With Bugs, According to Three Chefs

Category: Food & Drink,Lifestyle

A trio of recipes that feature edible insects including locusts, silkworm pupae and ant larvae.

Clockwise from top: crickets, Manchurian scorpions, Japanese hornets, black ants, vespula flaviceps (Japanese wasps), silkworm pupae, palm weevils and locusts from the pantry of Joseph Yoon at Brooklyn Bugs.CreditCreditDavid Chow

“We’re quick to down slippery oysters, stinking cheese and hot dogs made of entrails unknown, but we shy from anything that might once have crawled, hopped or hovered over a picnic blanket,” writes T contributing editor Ligaya Mishan in her latest piece on the joy, history — and, perhaps, necessity — of eating bugs. “Only in the West have we resisted such gustatory pleasures.” To make good on that suggestion, we asked three chefs around the world to submit their own recipes for insect dishes that can be made at home — assuming you have the stomach for it, along with the correct (somewhat chef-y) tools and, of course, the right bugs. A note on that last part: Thailand Unique stocks an extensive selection of insects for cooking purposes, including dehydrated silkworm pupae, highlighted in one of the dishes below. And a Maine-based company called Entosense sells online, too. Joseph Yoon, the executive director of Brooklyn Bugs, who also contributed a recipe, suggests the website Merci Mercado for procuring grasshoppers and gusano worms and another site, Entomo Farms, for cricket and mealworm products. Bon appétit!

Related: Why Aren’t We Eating More Insects?

Chef Kuniaki Yoshizawa’s Inago no Tsukudani.CreditDavid Chow

Inago no Tsukudani (Locusts Simmered in Soy Sauce and Mirin)

By Chef Kuniaki “Kuni” Yoshizawa from Wokuni, Tokyo

Chef Yoshizawa doesn’t serve any insects at Wokuni, the Japanese seafood chain from the powerhouse restaurant operator Tokyo Ichiban Foods, which also has a location in New York. But one of his formative cooking experiences is bug-centric: learning how to make inago no tsukudani, or locusts in tsukudani, a mixture of soy sauce and mirin. “It’s my childhood memory dish,” he says. When Yoshizawa was growing up in Tokyo, one of his neighbors invited him to visit his hometown, in a rural area of northeastern Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture. It was there that Yoshizawa learned to make this traditional dish. “We had to catch [the locusts] alive; while we were cooking, they would run away from the kitchen,” he recalls. “As a kid, it was a very sensational, memorable and shocking experience.” The sweet and salty locusts are typically served as a snack, with a “crunchy and crispy” texture and flavor that recall a chewier version of shrimp heads.

Inago, or locustsCreditDavid Chow

Serves 4

  • 1 pound locusts

  • 7 tablespoons soy sauce

  • 2 cups sake

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 1 cup mirin

1. Boil the insects for 1 minute and drain in cold water.

2. Tear off the legs, which are tough and hard to chew.

3. Put locusts in a deep pan or wok and stir-fry them, around 10 minutes, or until all moisture is gone.

4. Pour in soy sauce, sake and sugar, mix well, and simmer for 2 hours, or until all moisture is gone and the locusts are candied.

5. Reduce until insects are dry, then add mirin and stir well to keep it from burning.

6. Turn off heat and serve in a bowl.

Chef Joseph Yoon’s cellophane noodles with silkworm pupae.CreditDavid Chow

Beondegi Japchae (Silkworm Pupae Cellophane Noodles)

From Joseph Woon of Brooklyn Bugs, New York City

In a nod to his Korean roots, chef Joseph Yoon created an insect-studded riff on japchae, a classic cellophane noodle dish. Yoon is the executive director of Brooklyn Bugs, a New York-based company focused on entomophagy (eating insects), which launched an eponymous culinary festival in 2017. Silkworm pupae, or beondegi, are a common food throughout Korea, he says, where many locals eat them as children. “When they discover what it is that they’re eating at an older age, they become disgusted by the idea and stop eating them,” Yoon says. The silkworm pupae taste a bit like corn nuts, with “a dry, grainy flavor.”

Beondegi, or silkworm pupaeCreditDavid Chow

Serves 6 to 8

  • 1 pound japchae (Korean cellophane noodles)

  • 2 cups dried silkworm pupae

  • ¾ cup soy sauce

  • 6 tablespoons mirin

  • 6 tablespoons sake (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons chili oil (optional)

  • 5 cloves garlic

  • 1 teaspoon ginger

  • Salt and pepper, to taste

  • 1 onion, finely sliced lengthwise and cut in half

  • 1 red bell pepper, finely sliced lengthwise and cut in half

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 4 teaspoons sesame oil

  • Two carrots, julienned

  • 1 handful spinach

  • 6 to 10 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cut in slices

1. Soak the dried silkworm pupae in the following mixture to rehydrate: ½ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup mirin, ¼ cup sake (optional), 2 tablespoons chili oil (optional), 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon minced ginger, and a little water to cover (approximately ½ cup). This should be done for at least a couple of hours, or overnight.

2. Place one pound of japchae in rapidly boiling water and mix thoroughly to avoid clumping. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until they are al dente. Place in colander and run under cold water until cool. Take scissors and cut into eighths.

3. Add ¼ cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons mirin, 2 tablespoons sake (optional), 2 minced garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly until the noodles have an even color. Add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, and mix one final time.

4. While the noodles are cooking, preheat pan over medium-high heat, then add vegetable oil. Add onions, red bell pepper and carrots, a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until slightly caramelized. Set aside.

5. Blanche a handful of spinach, wring dry and drizzle with sesame oil and a pinch of salt.

6. Cook shiitake mushrooms in preheated pan with vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add a little salt and pepper, letting the moisture evaporate from the mushrooms so they cook down. Add one minced garlic clove, a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil; let brown to absorb flavors. Set aside with the other vegetables.

7. Combine the noodles and vegetables until everything is evenly mixed. Add salt or pepper to taste.

8. Strain the silkworm pupae, then mix with japchae.

Note: This can be eaten at room temperature, but Yoon prefers to heat immediately before serving (preheat pan to medium high, then add the japchae and silkworm pupae in portions and briefly heat until warm).

Chef Jorge Vallejo’s charred avocado tartare with ant larvae.CreditLindsay Lauckner Gundlock

Charred Avocado Tartare with Escamoles (Ant Larvae) and Herb Chips

By Jorge Vallejo from Quintonil, Mexico City

Chef Jorge Vallejo, a co-founder of the acclaimed Mexico City restaurant Quintonil, created his popular charred avocado tartare with ant larvae to showcase what he believes to be “the most iconic ingredients in Mexico” — avocados and insects. The goal was also to uplift and reimagine his country’s familiar guacamole and chips; to do so, he sources Quintonil’s escamoles, which are currently in season, from a community of female harvesters in San Miguel de Allende. “When people come to Mexico, they’re always curious about eating insects, because in our culture, it’s part of the everyday,” he says. Vallejo, who compares escamoles to caviar, describes their taste as “very nutty” with a “grassy, soil-y flavor” imparted by the ants’ diet of herbs and grass. In lieu of tortilla chips, Vallejo creates chips out of Mexican herbs, such as sorrel and epazote. “We really don’t use ingredients that are very expensive in terms of money,” he says of his restaurant, which serves a 10-course, $105 meal nightly, “but for me, the real value comes from the stories you can tell.”

Escamoles, or ant larvaeCreditLindsay Lauckner Gundlock

Serves 6 to 8

Sherry Vinaigrette

1. Put vinegar and salt in a bowl.

2. Beat with a whisk and slowly add olive oil until vinaigrette is emulsified.

Dehydrated Sorrel Leaf

1. Put vinegar and sorrel leaves in a vacuum bag, seal and let stand for 3 hours until the leaves absorb the vinegar.

2. Drain.

3. Heat the oven to 210 degrees.

4. Spread the leaves on a sheet pan lined with paper and bake for 1 hour with fan at maximum speed. (If you don’t have a fan, bake for 2 hours.)

5. Remove the leaves. When they cool, they should be crispy.

Brown Butter With Chile and Garlic Butter

  • 9 tablespoons butter

  • 2 tablespoons garlic, finely diced

  • 2 tablespoons onion, finely diced

  • 2 tablespoons serrano chile (without veins or seeds), finely diced

1. Heat the butter over medium heat in a pot until it reaches 275 degrees.

2. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

3. Once the impurities settle, slowly pour the liquid into another container, without disturbing the sediment.

4. Sauté the garlic, onion and serrano chile with the clarified butter, taking care that the garlic does not burn.

5. Let solidify.

Fried Kale

1. Fry the leaves in oil at 210 degrees.

2. Drain and add salt.

Onion and Spinach Powders

1 white onion

1 handful spinach

1. Heat oven to 575 degrees. Peel onion and cut into quarters. Cook onion for 1 hour, until burned and blackened. Put in blender until pulverized into a fine powder.

2. Heat oven to highest temperature then turn off. Place spinach leaves in oven overnight until crispy. Put in the blender until pulverized into a fine powder.

For the plating

  • 9.8 ounces escamoles

  • 2 slices avocado

  • 2 ½ teaspoons sherry vinaigrette

  • 2 serrano chiles, finely diced

  • 2 ½ teaspoons onion, finely diced

  • 5 teaspoons brown butter with chile and garlic

  • 2 ½ teaspoons dried kale

  • 2 ½ teaspoons dehydrated sorrel

  • 3 ½ tablespoons onion powder

  • 3 ½ spinach powder

  • 1 serrano chile, sliced

  • Lime zest

  • 1 tablespoon salt

1. Cut the avocado into cubes 0.5 centimeters thick.

2. Place in a steel container with the onion and burn with a blowtorch.

3. In a pan, melt the butter with chile and garlic, and sauté the escamoles.

4. Add the escamoles to the bowl with avocado.

5. Mix everything with the sherry vinaigrette.

6. Place a metal ring, and add avocado tartar and escamoles in the center.

7. Finish with fried kale, dehydrated sorrel and slices of serrano pepper.

8. Grate lime zest on the tartar preparation.

9. Serve with sorrel chips.

Note: This is a (slightly) simplified version of Quintonil’s dish — even though, yes, it requires a blowtorch.

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