It’s Time to Bug Out
Adding insects to your dishes can add texture, flavor and intrigue.
It may seem straight out of an episode of “Fear Factor,” but eating insects really isn’t as off-putting or gross as you may think. Sure, American diners have more familiarity with eating animal protein like chicken, beef or pork, but cultures around the world have cooked with insects for centuries for flavor, texture and as a high-quality protein source. Maybe it’s time you do, too.
Mexican cooking counts insects like grasshoppers, ant larvae and agave worms as key ingredients in many recipes, especially in regions like Oaxaca, and, in many cases, a true delicacy. Grasshoppers, also known as chapulines, have a delicious nutty flavor and crunchy texture.
“It’s hard to eat a worm, but a grasshopper is a good first step,” says Hugo Orozco Carrillo, chef at La Slowteria in Brooklyn. “It’s grassy, citrusy and salty. Many people compare it to a pumpkin seed or sunflower seed. It’s nutty.”
Orozco Carrillo says you can ease patrons into insects by frying some grasshoppers with lime, salt and chili powder and serving them as a snack in a ramekin. Then you can expand, using them in more dishes. You can mix them into guacamole or add them to corn wedges with cotija cheese and mayonnaise. He also uses ground chapulines as a crust on ahi tuna.
Like mushrooms, insects are an easy way to add umami flavors to food, says Andres Padilla, culinary director for Rick Bayless’ Frontera Hospitality Group and the chef de cuisine at Leña Brava, all in Chicago.
“If you’re adding them to a recipe as an accent or flavor builder, you’ll add umami and complexity,” Padilla explains.
You can also incorporate insects into your cocktail program. One simple method, if you serve mezcal at your restaurant or bar, is to grind up the agave worm larvae and mix it with sea salt and finely ground dried Mexican chile to make sal de gusano. Serve it with mezcal and orange slices or rim the edge of a michelada. Orozco Carrillo has ground up grasshoppers and mixed them with tomato juice and mezcal for an Oaxacan Bloody Mary, but also took the insect’s name to heart and created a chocolate mint cocktail garnished with nasturtium leaf and a grasshopper. “This was the grasshopper cocktail,” he says, playfully.
And if you’re able to look at insects from a playful perspective, you can also have a lot of fun experimenting with them in your recipes.