New Orleans restaurant puts cicada salad on its menu

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As the nation prepares for trillions of red-eyed insects known as periodicals crickets To highlight, it's worth noting that they're not just annoying, noisy pests; if prepared properly, they can also be tasty to eat.

New Orleans' Audubon Insectarium is steps away from gourmet French Quarter restaurants like Antoine's and Brennan's and has long served a variety of alternative insect-based treats in its “Bug Appetit” café overlooking the Mississippi River. “Cinnamon Bug Crunch,” chili-fried wax worms and crispy Cajun-spiced crickets are among the menu items.

Periodical crickets remain buried for years until they emerge and take over a landscape. Depending on the variety, emergence takes place every 13 or 17 years. This year, two groups are expected to emerge soon, with an average of about 1 million per acre across hundreds of millions of acres in parts of 16 states in the Midwest and South.

They form when the soil warms to 64 degrees (17.8 degrees Celsius), which happens sooner than it used to due to climate change, said entomologists. The insects are brown at first, but darken as they age.

Recently, Zack Lemann, the Insectarium's curator of animal collections, developed cicada dishes that may become part of the menu. This week he donned a chef's smock to show off a few, including a green salad with apple, almonds, blueberry vinaigrette – and roasted crickets. Fried cicada nymphs were dressed on top with a warm mixture of Creole mustard and soy sauce.

“I do dragonflies in a similar way,” Lemann said as he used tweezers to plop nymphs into a container of flour before cooking them in hot oil.

Depending on the type and how they are prepared, cooked crickets taste similar to roasted seeds or nuts. The Insectarium is not the first to promote the idea of ​​eating them. Over the years, they've appeared on a few menus and in cookbooks, including titles like “Cicada-Licious” from the University of Maryland in 2004.

“Every culture has things they like to eat and maybe things that are taboo or things that people just turn their noses up at and frown at,” Lemann said. “And there's no reason to do that to insects when you look at the nutritional value, their quality on the plate, how they taste, the environmental benefits of harvesting insects instead of dealing with livestock.”

Lemann has ensured that the Bug Appetit cafe has legal permission to serve wild-caught crickets while he works to gather resources for the insects. He expects the unusual emergence of two huge broods of cicadas this spring will increase interest in insects in general and in the Insectarium — even though the affected area does not include southeastern Louisiana.

“I can't imagine, given that periodical crickets are national news, that we won't have guests, both local and from outside New Orleans, asking us about it,” Lemann said. “That's another reason why I hope to have enough to serve it to people at least a few times.”

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