Before you cook any food–particularly something you’ve never cooked before–you want to assess the food’s physical characteristics: how much fat it has, how much lean meat, the presence of bones, etc.
A cicada is mostly protein with a fair amount of shell and very little fat. Now, fat is a carrier of flavor–that’s why we like our meat marbled–so to up the flavor quotient in cicada, I prefer to fry it and perhaps serve with some cheese.
Before you do anything, though, you want to select the right bug. I try to snag the little guys coming right out of the ground. The youngest of any breed is usually the most tender (think veal, suckling pig, etc.), and the younger cicadas have a softer exoskeleton. Once the cicada hits a tree, it begins to transform into a larger, winged creature; to eat these, you have to clip the wings and they look a lot less appealing (though I realize to many this is a fine distinction).
Once home, parboil the bug: I put a cup or so of cicadas in rapidly boiling water for about a minute then scoop then out and drop into an ice water bath. The shell reddens slightly, just as would be the case with the cicada’s crustacean brethren (they’re all arthropods, so if you’re allergic to shellfish, do not eat cicadas).
Now, with frying, you can bread them or fry them commando style by just dropping the bug into hot fat. My wife, Carolyn, does a fine tempura cicada. We drop the cicadas into tempura batter (just rice flour, egg, and water) and fry the creatures. Carolyn rolls them with a little steamed carrot, chive, umeboshi paste, wasabi, and soy (the critters need a little salt). In nori rolls, the bugs look great, and they appeal to people because the nori roll is a familiar preparation and the insect is hidden inside.
My friend Catherine Lambrecht developed two very good preparations. One is a variation of the children’s favorite, “ants on a log,” with a dollop of chevre (fresh goat cheese) on an endive. On top, a cicada is mounted…but not mounted in the way it had hoped to be when it emerged from the earth after 17 years (Ho! Try the veal!). The cheese provides the fatty base for the leaner cicada.
I’ve found that the cicada has notes of peanut butter. Consequently, we thought it’d be great with jelly. So we got a piece of celery, added some blueberry preserves from Genesis Growers, a local artisanal farmer, and added the bug. (PS to locavores: cicada cookery is the ultimate in eating locally.) It tasted like a crunchy PB&J, with the celery providing a moist element that makes the whole thing go down easy.
And that can be a challenge.
(Photos courtesy Catherine Lambrecht.)