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Melissa MacEwen | The Roaming Fork

Cooking Jiminy

Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 08:02

 

When I was eight years old, my brother and I had a lizard named Larry. In addition to requiring a terrarium, a shelter made from a log and a UV light, Larry also needed to be fed a daily ration of crickets that we picked up from the pet store downtown. I found this utterly horrifying. “Pinocchio” (1940) and “Mulan” (1998) had convinced me to see the charm in the waving antennae and staring eyes of these little creatures, and I saw them as “cute” rather than “edible.”

Still, years later, this didn’t stop me from wandering onto the Fluker Farms website and ordering 250 five-week-old crickets. You see, crickets — and other insects and arthropods — really are an excellent food source. In addition to being high in protein, iron and calcium, they are also low in fat and contain effectively no carbohydrates. Frying the crickets — which I decided was the easiest course of action — would obviously offset these benefits slightly, but not irredeemably so.

Most Western cultures are horrified by the idea of eating bugs, but we are in the minority with this perspective. All sorts of critters have been enjoyed internationally for tens of thousands of years, where they are prized for their nutritional value, their easy preparation and their minimal environmental impact. The Greeks and Romans were some of the first to record their culinary adventures with insects, but Native American cultures, as well as cultures across Asia, Africa and Latin America, have long depended on insects as a source of food. It is somewhat unclear why the West is so adverse to bugs as food, but some historians have theorized that the agrarian West had trouble seeing insects as anything other than pests for their crops and therefore avoided them.

As Larry could probably attest, crickets are tastier when they are alive — or at least freshly dead — which explains why a weather-insured package of live baby crickets showed up on my doorstep two days after I ordered them. Preparation-wise, the first step was to freeze (a.k.a. kill) them. Once they were frozen, I emptied them from their box, rinsed them in a strainer and then tossed them in a saute pan with half an inch or so of oil. Easy enough. They popped, sizzled and browned, all while smelling ... delicious.

Don’t get me wrong. I always thought I would like crickets, and once tried to order them on a taco at Tu Y Yo in Davis Square where they were unfortunately sold out. But when it actually came time to try my first cricket, I was still surprised. Crunchy, but also nutty and slightly sweet, the crickets were plenty flavorful — even without any seasoning. They were simultaneously crispy and tender, and the spiciness of the curried butter I coated them in highlighted their flavor beautifully. I found these buttered crickets went well with crackers, but I also enjoyed them tossed into some baby salad greens, where the butter doubled as a sort of dressing. My five-week-old crickets were so small that I generally ended up eating a dozen or so in each bite (a rather strange thought), so the only thing I might change if I were to eat them in the future would be to order older, larger ones.

Guys, do it. Buy some crickets and fry ‘em up. Though I mail-ordered mine because the retailer’s rearing process sounded the most promising, I’m sure you could find them cheaply somewhere nearby. They’re delicious, good for you and have just enough of the “yuck” factor to be pretty exciting to us sheltered Westerners.

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Melissa MacEwen is a junior majoring in biology and English. She can be reached at melissa.macewen@tufts.edu.

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