The invitation came by email.
Montclair State University invited me to lunch. On the menu: cicadas.
It turns out the university’s assistant professor of anthropology Cortni Borgerson has been marinating, searing, coating, boiling, rolling and slicing bugs ever since she began working on her Ph.D in Madagascar 15 years ago. There she feasted on sakondry, aka the bacon bug, a nutritious (lots of protein) alternative, she and her colleagues hope, will replace consuming critically endangered lemurs in the island nation.
Now she’s in New Jersey, living in Montclair and teaching and studying all about sustainable food sources, environmental health and nutrition — which apparently means bugs.
Insects are, Borgerson said, “twice as rich in protein as beef,” and unlike cattle, lamb and pigs, they don’t negatively impact the environment. And because it’s finally cicada season in the Northeast, Borgerson is also eating and serving the three-inch-long, red-eyed bug to friends, family and, today — because I’m the food editor of The Record and northjersey.com — me.
No doubt you’ve heard that the Brood X cicadas have started to emerge in New Jersey after living underground for a whopping 17 years.
“It is the biggest periodic cicada emergence in the world,” said Borgerson, a 36-year-old mother of two. “And the American Northeast is especially blessed.”
In New Jersey, Brood X cicadas have been seen in Princeton, among other areas in South Jersey; Borgerson said the insects most probably won’t make it to North Jersey due to pesticide use, the great number of trees that have been cut down (trees are cicadas’ bread and butter) and the great amount of development the region has undergone (it’s impossible to dig out through concrete).
More coverage:Is it a cicada year in NJ? Brood X emerges
So Borgerson went foraging in Princeton, where the cicadas are busy shedding their skin, unfurling their wings, toughening their new skin and looking for a mate (That deafening noise they make is the males’ mating call; they die soon after). There she harvested cicadas for our meal, picking them off trees and gently plopping them into plastic containers. She looked for cicadas in their teneral stage, that is, right after they shed into their adult form and are still pale white. Teneral cicadas, she said, are tastiest. (Those allergic to seafood should not eat them, however.)
Back home, she quickly froze them.
“They’ll last in the freezer for two weeks,” she said. “You shouldn’t leave them out — they’ll spoil, like leaving lobster on the counter.”
Eating cicadas is healthy and has benefits
She is hoping that eating bugs is going to be a normal occurrence for us in the future. It is for more than 2 billion people across the world (ants in China, grasshoppers in Mexico, bee larvae in Vietnam, beetles in the Amazon, crickets in Cambodia and Thailand).
Insects are, she said, nutritious (cicadas, for example, are low in calories, high in iron and protein), sustainable (they don’t harm the environment and eat little) and a great way for us to feel connected to Mother Nature.
“We will see a big boom in insect eating in the near future,” Borgerson predicted, likening its potential rise to that of plant-based burgers. “It’s coming,” she said. “When I can find bugs in the refrigerated aisle of my supermarket, I’ll know we’ve made it.”
How do you prepare cicadas to eat?
Borgerson prepared most of our meal at home before we met at a kitchen on campus. Wearing a long summery dress, she unloaded bags filled with avocados, cream cheese, sushi rice, nori, sriracha and cooked cicadas. We were going to have sushi for lunch — cicada sushi. But, no, we weren’t going to eat the cicadas raw, Borgerson assured.
She opened two stainless steel containers to reveal a bunch of tiny cooked bugs lying on paper towels. One contained cicadas that had been quickly fried after marinating in gluten-free tamari, lime juice and a few drops of sriracha (“I love things spicy,” she said). The other contained cicadas that had been quickly cooked as is in shallow water.
Did I want to bolt for the door? Did I get a wee bit squeamish?
No way. I couldn’t wait to pop one in my mouth.
So I did.
What do cicadas taste like?
Yum! The little bugs are surprisingly meaty, wonderfully crunchy, a bit nutty and all-around delicious. Some say they taste like shrimp, others like asparagus. Thank goodness, no one says they taste like chicken. I popped a few more.
Borgerson made a few maki rolls for us, using cicadas cooked both ways, plus avocado and cream cheese. If only she brought along some sake.
I left happy, full, and wondering if I should make time this weekend to drive down to Princeton. Some of us will do just about anything for a delicious, nutritious — and, come to think of it, free — lunch.
Get a fork and knife – Cicada recipes for you
Here are three recipes, courtesy of Cortni Borgerson of Montclair State University
Oil for frying (coconut oil preferred; it pairs well with cicada and cassava flavors)
1½ cups flour or gluten-free flour substitute (cassava is recommended)
2 teaspoons salt
15 teneral cicada (cicadas that have just shed their skin; beige-peach in color)
Preheat oil in a dutch oven or deep pan.
Combine the flour, salt and egg.
Slowly pour in the seltzer and mix until it’s the consistency of lumpy pancake batter.
Dip the cicada into the batter and fry until golden brown. Can be eaten as a snack, if desired.
Note: Reserve leftover tempura batter in the fridge and save the frying oil in the pan to use for the sushi recipe below.
Leftover frying oil
1 sheet of nori (sushi seaweed)
Cooked and cooled seasoned sushi rice
6 tempura cicada
2-3 slices of avocado
2-3 thin slices of cream cheese
Leftover tempura batter
Sriracha cream sauce (⅓ cup plain unsweetened yogurt or mayo + 2 teaspoons sriracha or to taste)
Heat frying oil.
Thinly spread sushi rice evenly across sheet of nori.
Line up tempura cicada, avocado and cream cheese at the bottom of the sheet. Roll the sushi tightly.
Dip the roll into the tempura batter and fry until golden brown.
Set roll onto a paper towel or cloth until it’s cool enough to slice.
Plate and drizzle with sriracha cream sauce.
Flaming Cicada Fondue
Bag of chocolate chips
Water or milk
Tempura cicada (how many you have)
Fresh fruit of your choice
1 shot of rum
Heat the chocolate in a double boiler while stirring and slowly add small amounts of water or milk until it reaches a nice melty consistency ideal for dipping.
Pour into a fondue pot and surround with bowls of fruit and cicadas.
Pour the rum over the top and light it on fire with a long match/lighter.
Once the fire burns out, dip in the cicadas and fruit.
Share cool cicada facts, and enjoy the epic end to your science and family-filled evening.
Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.
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