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Geoff Marshall prepares to eat one of his fried cicadas, Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

Geoff Marshall prepares to eat one of his fried cicadas May 28.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Locals indulge in cicada snacks — available every 17 years

‘Like any self-respecting American, I’m going to deep fry them in a little beer batter. Anything’s good in garlic butter, right?’ said Geoff Marshall, a cicada fan who cooked up the insects for his friends.

As it turns out, a blanched cicada tastes kind of like asparagus.

The periodical cicadas are back after 17 years in the ground, and for some bug enthusiasts, that means a new snack. Kacie Athey, a University of Illinois researcher of cicadas, and Geoff Marshall, an Albany Park nature lover who works in marketing, both described the insects as tasting like the long green vegetable once they’ve been blanched.

But there are ways to make them more tasty, they both said.

After trying one blanched cicada, Marshall battered some in beer batter, fried them and served them up to his friends, proud to introduce a new delicacy that might freak some people out.

“Like any self-respecting American, I’m going to deep fry them in a little beer batter,” he said ahead of cooking for his friends. “Anything’s good in garlic butter, right? I’m hoping it’ll be kind of like popcorn shrimp.”

Cicadas, like crickets and ants, are edible and, some would even say, delicious. Anyone with a shellfish allergy, though, should steer clear. Cicadas could cause a reaction similar to eating crab or shrimp.

Taking the once-every-17-years opportunity was important to some insect fans, who frame it as a way to try new things and introduce people to cultures that eat insects regularly. There are myriad ways to prepare them, ranging from a simple roast to placing them on pizza, as Athey did with a group of cicada lovers who recorded a podcast about their experience. They prepared the cicadas in a few ways: on pizza, tempura fried, roasted and chopped up on a sundae.

Cicadas prepared in a few ways: on pizza, tempura fried, roasted and chopped up on a sundae.

Kacie Athey and a group of cicada enthusiasts prepared cicadas in a variety of ways, then created a podcast discussing their thoughts on the unconventional snack.

Provided

The dessert variation was Athey’s least favorite.

“When they were chopped up, I was starting to be like, ‘Oh was that a leg,’ ” she said. “The whole cicada was better across the board.”

Athey, based in southern Illinois, tried the 13-year cicadas that also emerged this year, but those closer to Chicago have access to the 17-year brood instead. The “dog day” cicadas that come out each year in the late summer are also edible.

Before you start munching on cicadas, there are a few things to look out for, according to Jim Louderman, a collections assistant in the Field Museum’s Gantz Family Collection Center.

“It depends on where you live and what kinds of things are being sprayed on the soil. Some of the pesticides are pretty bad, and they could be on the cicadas,” Louderman said.

Louderman suggested serving the insects deep-fried in butter with a sauce like marinara, or replacing a traditional taco meat like beef or pork with the bugs, seasoned with lemon and chili powder.

The best time to eat cicadas is right when they emerge from the ground and shed their exoskeleton, experts agree. The insects haven’t hardened yet, so the texture is more conducive to snacking. If they’re eaten after hardening, it’s best to remove the hard outer shell and eat the meat inside, similar to removing a shrimp’s shell.

To make sure any bacteria is killed off, blanching the cicadas in boiling water is a good first step. Depending on when you’re planning to eat them, freezing them might be necessary as well.

Tlayuda with crickets, made by Chris Miller, culinary director of Big Star restaurant, is seen at Big Star in Wicker Park, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The dish is not for sale at the restaurant, but Miller will be part of a Field Museum culinary event where Big Star chefs will incorporate insects into their recipes.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

As part of a push to get people more comfortable and educate them on eating insects, the Field Museum and Big Star restaurant are hosting “Bug Bites,” a special event serving crickets on tlayuda, a traditional Mexican dish “kind of like a big nacho,” according to culinary director Chris Miller. They’ll also serve an ant sauce on a taco, Miller said. The event, set to take place June 11 at Big Star West Town, 551 N. Ogden Ave., gives participants a chance to expand their palates by offering the insect dishes. Field Museum scientists will also show off a live bug “zoo” and other insects from the museum.

The cricket recipe can be adapted for people looking to eat cicadas at home. Fry the cicadas in oil at around 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 seconds, then remove them from the oil and cover them in spices to taste, like chili powder, salt and garlic powder. The Big Star tlayuda also included cheese, arugula, asparagus, refried black beans and salsa verde.

NOTE: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns individuals with shellfish allergies to avoid eating cicadas because they are closely related to shrimp and lobsters.

Chris Miller, culinary director of Big Star restaurant, puts arugula on a tortilla to demonstrate how to make tlayuda with crickets at Big Star in Wicker Park, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The dish is not for sale at the restaurant, but Miller will be part of a Field Museum culinary event where Big Star chefs will incorporate insects into their recipes. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chris Miller, culinary director of Big Star restaurant, puts arugula on a tortilla to demonstrate how to make tlayuda with crickets at Big Star in Wicker Park. Miller will be part of a Field Museum culinary event next week where Big Star chefs will incorporate insects into their recipes.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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