I cook seasonally, so whatever is in abundance at various times of the year is what appears often on the dinner table. I like fresh and local whenever possible, and pair wine accordingly. Of course, this way of cooking is soon to be seriously challenged because there will be a fresh, local bumper crop of cicadas soon coming to a yard or park near you, if you live in my part of the United States. We eat bugs (unwittingly) daily, but I have never set out to make a meal of them. Even if I am not eating something, I still am curious about the taste and of course, the wine pairings. Girl Scout cookies are a good case in point…I didn’t eat many this year, but I still talked and wrote a lot of wine pairings. Of course, eating bugs is not akin to eating Girl Scout cookies…and I have no idea how cicadas taste. Fortunately, Google is our friend in such matters, so I did a little research.
Cicadas are pretty popular in various (intentional) bug eating cultures around the world. The taste descriptors vary from “light nutty taste” to “asparagus-like” to “clam or lobster”. How they taste and what you pair with them ultimately comes down to how you prepare them. Who knows…maybe you have a wide range of recipes and preparations for them. Sure, anything fried is going to taste great, which is why those food stands at fairs have such long lines. Deep-fried dirt would probably sell.
My first thoughts, based on the taste descriptions, is that we aren’t talking about a red wine pairing, which might go better with earthier tasting insects. Popular in many Asian cultures, I started thinking cicadas would go nicely with riesling, even gewürztraminer, depending on the level of heat and spice. But the nuttiness and vegetal characteristics keep bring me back to an herbaceous sauvignon blanc, perhaps even a gruner veltliner. A zippy sparkling wine would do the trick too, especially for fried cicadas. The Iroquois in upstate New York were said to be fond of eating cicadas, so a Finger Lakes version of some of these suggestions would add a nice historical touch. I also did just have a beautiful chardonnay from Jura in France, with a taste profile unlike most chardonnays. Minerally and just the slightest oxidation, it held up incredibly well against a range of foods and sauces, so that’s a possibility too.
You’ll notice I have chosen possible wines that also have good doses of acidity. Why? Acidity stimulates salivation and appetite, and even if you are the most adventurous of eaters, the sight of a cicada on your plate is not likely to get your mouth all juiced up like a delectable dessert might. In fact, for most, the opposite reaction will occur…the mouth will dry (which would make whistling difficult too at that moment, I would imagine). Sparkling wines in general are great aperitifs because they stimulate this whole process, but admittedly, Im usually serving something more widely palatable on the heels of a sparkling wine. One more thing you might want to do…get two bottles, one for pairing and one for before the feast to not just stimulate your appetite, but to as Shakespeare wrote, screw up your courage to the sticking place, which its hoped is not your throat.
Now I have not ever tasted cicadas, not even accidentally while riding down the road on my bike. I am not about to go out and harvest cicadas either. Here is my one time only generous offer…if you plan to cook up a tasty fresh cicada-based dish, I will bring the wines to pair with it (and document the special event on video). I will only do this once, not because I’m not generous with wine, but because my palate is probably not quite so generous in tolerating bugs. I will base my choice not only on your intended method of preparation but if I know you to be adept in the kitchen. When I want sweetbreads, I don’t want to order them at the local deli, and often our life-lasting impressions of atypical foods are colored by the one or one of the few times we get to eat it…so, be a good cook.
Some herding tips: Remember, we only have six weeks or so of this sing/screw/die cycle until the next big yield in 2030. That’s a significant expiration date. And sing/screw/die was referring to the bugs, not contestants.
Try to get the cicadas fresh out of their brown shells. These are known are tenerals and they are still tender and most juicy. This emergence usually happens in the middle of the night, so it does favor insomniac chefs. Within their first day of hard living, exposed to the world, cicadas will develop the crunchy hard outer shell. I am not sure comparing them to hard shell and soft shell crabs is fair to crabs though.
Males tend to shrivel up when exposed to extreme heat (as opposed to cold water?). The females are yummier to eat, because they have more protein. There are ways to determine if you’ve gotten a male or female, but I am not going to get into it here because, let’s face it, most of you aren’t going to take me up on this offer.
There are many recipes (believe it or not) on the internet. Almost all say to de-wing them…none say anything about de-legging them, but frankly, if their legs allow them to stick to just about anything, I wonder if there’s potential for them to stick on the way down when eating them (I threw that in to try to whittle down potential contestants).
So if you are up for it, write to me with your proposed menu and a short explanation of your cooking skills. Contestants must be 21 or older, oh, and employees of The Grapes Unwrapped are not eligible, which excludes me from catching and cooking these tasty morsels.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your insects.