What To Know About Cooking Cicadas Before Brood X Emerges in Your Backyard
Chef Joseph Yoon of Brooklyn Bugs shares his advice on the best way to enjoy the delicacy.
Spring marks the start of a new season and with it, seasonal ingredients. Chefs are busy thinking of how to incorporate asparagus, fiddleheads, and rhubarb into their menu. But Joseph Yoon, founder of Brooklyn Bugs, is excited for his once-in-17-years ingredient: the Brood X cicada.
“I’m preparing, what I believe is the first, cicada caviar and other delicacies around Brood X,” Yoons says, excitedly.
For 17 years, the Great Eastern Brood—one of 15 cicada species that emerges every few years—lived underground, gorging itself on tree sap. This spring, a horde of cicadas will crawl out from the earth (in New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennessee, and 10 more eastern states) and give a number of professional and home chefs the opportunity to tinker with edible insects in their kitchens.
Yoon is working to normalize the process of eating insects, and started Brooklyn Bugs, an endeavor that’s equal parts pop-up dinner series, educational tour, and chef consultancy. He first got into edible insects as a collaboration with artist Miru Kim, when she was looking to serve insects as part of a project.
“There’s a misconception that you can pick up a bug and eat it,” Yoon says. “We need to come up with a new understanding, a new perception . . . to separate the bug in your house from what we’re eating.”
The chef emphasizes that an insect requires prep and cooking time, just like any other piece of edible protein, in order to get the best flavor out of it. His menu includes black ants smeared on garlic shrimp over avocado sauce, lobster on a wonton chip and topped with a manchurian scorpion, and chapulines (Spanish for grasshoppers) sprinkled on top of chocolate mousse.
For the Brood X cicadas—which will emerge from the ground when the earth reaches 63.5 degrees—Yoon says the window for consumption is about two weeks from when they first appear, with the most flavorful selection being at the front-end of the season. The longer the cicadas are out from the ground, the less muscle mass they have and that’s where all the flavor is. For immediate use, Yoon recommends boiling the bugs for 2-3 minutes then running through a cold bath. Anyone wishing to use their bounty at a later date can freeze the bugs, but Yoon says they should be washed after they’re defrosted because washing the cicadas before freezing will waterlog the insect and change its flavor.
In order to get the most out of the cicada bounty, Yoon recommends thinking of your favorite meal and finding ways to incorporate cicadas. The bugs can be blended into a powder that can get scooped into a smoothie or thrown into a flour for baking cookies and brownies. He says it’s not a one-to-one ratio for gluten, so avoid it for baking cakes or anything that rises. Avoid heating the cicadas on high temperatures, which might cause it to burn and bring out bitter notes. Instead, Yoon recommends baking the cicadas at 225 degrees for 10-15 minutes which can then be added into stir-fry, a bolognese sauce, or mac and cheese.
Yoon tries to educate people who have the misconception that the consumption of insects only happens in developing nations or for those unable to afford seafood or livestock He says the act of eating bugs is as old as mankind and about 80 percent of the world’s population still makes eating insects a part of their regular diet—it is not an apocalyptic act. In fact, the deep-fried golden cicada is a very popular dish in the Shandong Province in China.
“Eating is very much a status symbol and cultural status symbol,” says Yoon. “Think about big fancy celebrations like weddings and the food served. It’s filet mignon and lobster or something similar. The idea of eating insects has unfortunately been stigmatized.”
Yoon is alluding to the fact that lobster is usually one of the most expensive food items on a Western menu. However, back when the U.S. was founded the sea crustacean was used to feed prisoners, enslaved populations, and apprentices. It took 100 years, the invention of the railroad system, and train operators looking to increase their profit margins (by rebranding lobster as a rare and exotic item to landlocked travelers) for it to become the delicacy it is known as today. Yoon is working on educating the masses to do the same for edible insects—or land crustaceans as he calls them.
His work goes beyond rebranding bugs from “creepy crawlers” to edible insects. He’s determined to draw awareness to this alternative protein option, which can ease the strain of greenhouse gases on the environment, and water supplies if swapped in for one meal a week. Plus, in 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations published a report that endorsed edible insects as a sustainable source for protein. Yoon says bugs are not a silver bullet but rather one of several lifestyle changes a person can make to reduce their carbon footprint. He says there is no better time than the once-in-17-years emergence of the Brood X cicada—a versatile insect that will be plentiful in the weeks to come.
“It can be whatever you want it to be,” Yoon says. “You can add them to a seasoning mix, replace shrimp or chicken to make cicada fried rice. The only limitation that exists is really your own imagination.”