George Selden, this story is not for you.
Crickets and grasshoppers are loud-as-hell and can jump higher than parkour masters. But when properly cooked, they're crispier than a bucket of piping hot fried chicken.
As fellow members of the Orthopteran clan, these bugs aren't just noise-makers and lucky charms, but viable sources of protein and calcium. Plus, grasshoppers are the best beer snacks.
In our second installment of our Cooking with Bugs series, we explore the culinary techniques you need to know regarding grasshoppers and crickets with a little help from bug expert David George Gordon. Yesterday, he gave us tips on how to carefully break down and fry scorpions without getting stung. Gordon is known for his primer cookbook on insects, The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, and his role as insect chef-de-cuisine at the annual Explorers' Club dinner in New York. Apparently, nymphs are his favorite snack.
From a texture perspective, does de-thawing them affect the cooking process? It doesn't do much because of the fact that the bugs are already wrapped up in their body armor. People are surprised to hear that, but it's the chitin—the stuff that actually goes over their eyes and into their breathing holes—that effectively seals their insides off. When I worked on my cookbook in the 90s, I had to experiment and see whether it made a difference to use a live cricket versus a dead one versus a frozen one that had been defrosted. I could not tell an appreciable difference. But the only issue is if you're using something small like cricket nymphs—the babies rather than the adults—they deteriorate fairly quickly once they're defrosted, so you will need to work fast.
What's the perfect size to cook with? I always think crickets are the queens of the bug realm. You can get them year-round in extremely large numbers in different size gradients, from what they call pinheads all the way up to the adults. I like to cook "Orthopteran Orzo," with four- or five-week-old cricket nymphs. I like cricket nymphs because they don't have their wings yet, so they molt and shed their body armor and come out slightly larger. They do that a bunch of times before they are grown up and each time they do, they are a little bit more like mom and dad. They don't really get their wings until one of the last molts.
And what's your advice on how to get the best results cooking them? The crickets themselves are usually already sorted into Ziploc bags in my freezer, so I can take those out depending on whether I want adults or juveniles. I defrost them, put them in a colander and rinse them off quickly. When I make orthopteran orzo, I like to sauté them in a little bit of butter with some onion. One of my general rules for my cooking is that I want people to be able to taste the bug, not just the seasoning. Just a little bit of butter and some garlic in a pan with some butter is a great start for sautéing crickets if you've never had them before.
So how would you describe the taste? People always say it tastes like chicken, but what does chicken taste like? A lot of bugs have a very mild seafood-like flavor. When crickets have been microwaved for ten seconds, they taste kind of like shrimp chips that you can find in Indonesian grocery stores.
When it comes to handling them, is there any part that you shouldn't use or is scary to handle? If the legs or antennae are obstacles for you, you can put them on a cookie sheet, bake them so they're a little crispier, and then put them into a paper bag. Shake up the bag and it will detach their antennae and legs for easier use.
Sort of like 'Shake and Bake'? Exactly. But for me personally, meat is muscle, so you're getting muscle out of eating their legs. I think removing their legs is a mistake.
So what's the tastiest part? When you're eating them, you're actually getting a mixture of both muscle and their internal organs, so the chewy bits are all kind of mixed in there together. I like to eat them whole. If you use cricket nymphs, you're not dealing with the wings, which are roughage. There's also Mexican chapulines, grasshoppers, which tend to be harvested in the wild by the billions. They're roasted, seasoned with chili salt and lime, and sold in mounds at Oaxacan markets—the perfect beer snack.
Since crickets and grasshoppers are both in the orthoptera order, can you define the difference in flavor between crickets and grasshoppers, or chapulines? Grasshoppers are a little bigger and more robust. Whenever I'm in Los Angeles, there are a number of Oaxacan grocery stores where I buy chapulines. They sell them by the ounce. I actually have a basketball-sized block of them in my freezer. They're good to go and all I do in my cookbook is put them on skewers and dip them in chocolate fondue. Now you have chocolate and a little bit of spicy chili seasoning with salt and then it kind of tastes like salted caramel. What a trendy new flavor that is.
Trippy. Is there any other edible species that is similar to grasshoppers or crickets? Well I'm going to give you two answers if you don't mind. I buy these things that are called Cambodian mole crickets, which actually live in the ground and probably come out when it rains a lot in Southeast Asia. They're big—about 2.5 inches long—so we're not talking about little crickets that are half an inch long, and you can buy frozen packages of them from Asian grocery stores. I have to tell you, it is kind of a relief that they are being sold as food. Health departments like to know that. At the Explorers' Club banquet, I made Cambodian Cricket Rumaki and I just wrapped them in bacon with a little chunk of pineapple and served them with Sriracha mayo.
And people liked it? Those went pretty fast. We made about 600 of them as finger food and they disappeared quickly.