As part of this month's Eat Local Challenge, Zack Lemann brought a group of curious participants to Manchac Swamp, where the group caught more than 100 dragonflies and grasshoppers. Lemann demonstrated how to cook the critters at the Bug Appetit dining room at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. Lemann, manager of Animal and Visitor Programs at the Insectarium, spoke with Gambit about the growing popularity of edible insects.
Is eating insects a thing now?
Lemann: Absolutely. Since 2011, there's been an incredible uptick in popularity when it comes to edible insects. If you look around the country, there are more and more of these popping up every day. There are a lot of Asian and a lot of Mexican restaurants that are experimenting with it and including [insects] on their menus. Here in New Orleans, it's already happening at Johnny Sanchez, where they're serving Oaxacan chapulines (grasshoppers).
How can people catch edible insects in the area?
L: We took people out to the Manchac Swamp, but there are lots of places in the surrounding areas. You'll find lots of dragonflies, grasshoppers and katydids (which are close relatives to grasshoppers and crickets). There are probably a lot more edible caterpillars out there than I'm aware of and, of course, there are a lot of termites.
When you go after dragonflies in the daytime, you need to target your efforts to those that land often and fly close to the ground. Catching a dragonfly while it's in the air is no easy feat. When you collect stuff to eat in the wild, you want the calories that you bring back to be greater than the calories you expend.
Grasshopper collecting is typically best when you have a heavy net, one you use to sweep across the grass multiple times, around ankle or knee height. After you catch the bugs, you put them in wax paper (for dragonflies) or a sturdier container (for grasshoppers) and freeze them, which kills the insects.
How do you cook the bugs?
L: I'm not a chef, and I don't have culinary training — I'm just a bug guy who knows how to turn a stove on. But there's a very general rule that as long as you're not exposing the insect to really high heat, which will make them burst, you can do pretty much everything with them. You can grill them, bake them, roast them, pan fry them. ... I've enjoyed grasshoppers and crickets when they're roasted — you can season them afterwards or before, and it renders them fairly crispy.
I've eaten dragonflies raw before, and I wouldn't recommend it. They taste kind of fishy, and not an agreeable fishy. But when you fry them, they taste a lot like soft-shell crab, and they're absolutely delicious.
I like to treat them like a fish and run them through a raw egg mixture and some seasoned fish fry and then fry them for half a minute on each side in oil over medium heat. I like to serve them with mushrooms and Dijon-soy butter.
What's funny is that when you serve bugs to people who are excited about doing something new and foreign, they don't want it mixed in with other textures and flavors. But that's how I like them best.