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What's The Best Way To Eat Cicadas? A Chef's Insect-Based Recipes

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, if you are on the East Coast, you already know. They seem to be everywhere. I'm talking about the cicadas of Brood 10, those red-eyed bugs that emerge from the ground every 17 years and whose song eventually builds into a deafening wall of sound that's impossible to ignore. Some parts of the Eastern U.S. are already experiencing that. Others have yet to get the full treatment. But what we want to talk about now is, what's the best way to eat them? Turns out, many people have been gathering cicadas and preparing them in a number of ways, from salad toppings to creature kabobs.

Who knows? This Memorial Day weekend, you're getting ready for your cookout, and you might be feeling adventurous. So we decided to hear from a chef who's been giving this some serious thought. That's why we called Xavier Deshayes. He is the executive chef at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here in Washington, D.C. And he has already prepared a number of cicada-based recipes that he is ready to share with us.

Chef, thank you so much for joining us.

XAVIER DESHAYES: Thank you, Michel, for having me. Really a pleasure to share that with you.

MARTIN: So I'm sure this isn't news to you, but I'm guessing that dining on any kind of bug is not something many of our listeners do regularly. So why would somebody want to cook with these creatures?

DESHAYES: Simple. If you cannot beat it, eat it, you know?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

DESHAYES: So they are here, and we need to do something with it, you know. I've always been using invasive species of one way or another. Then cicadas, here I am, 17 years waiting for you. And so, you know, me as a French, if we can eat snail and frog, I can try to eat cicadas, especially if I cook them.

MARTIN: Solid point. Just a point of clarification. They not an invasive species because they are actually native to this area.

DESHAYES: I do understand, but when you have trillions coming in one time, we can call that.

MARTIN: (Laughter) That is true. When you're, like, sitting on your deck, and one falls into your coffee cup, you might see it as invasive. So totally get that point. But you were telling us that there's an environmental advantage to getting your protein from insects as opposed to of meat, right?

DESHAYES: Of course.

MARTIN: Tell me a little bit more about that.

DESHAYES: Insect is going to be the protein of the future. You know, insect farming is very sustainable when you compare to cows or any other animal farming, you know - less fossil energy, less water, less space, less food, you know what I mean? So when you look at it on the end, insect farming has every way of being profitable.

MARTIN: I'm getting warmer. I'm not there yet, though (laughter).

DESHAYES: You will come. You will come. You need to eat some of the cicadas that I have prepared, you know what I mean? Maybe you will trust it even more.

MARTIN: It could be that. So let's talk about these other people who are more interested in eating these things than I am. So what's the first thing you do? Like, do you gather them at a particular stage, or how do you do it?

DESHAYES: You know, I don't eat insect. It's not something that I eat every day. So two weeks ago, I start to harvest them. And I say, OK, what you will be the good safety to eat them? So I blanched them on the boiling water for five minutes. And after that, I laid them on the sheet pan. And I roast them for 2 1/2 to three hours at 200 degrees.

MARTIN: Oh.

DESHAYES: So what I end up having is a very dry cicada. They look like a little snack.

MARTIN: Yeah.

DESHAYES: And with that, I made a powder, crushed them. And for one of the recipes that I did a couple days ago, I crust a flank steak for barbecue.

MARTIN: Oh, OK.

DESHAYES: So I grill my flank steak. And overnight, I put this crust of cicadas (unintelligible) with olive oil, with garlic powder, with parsley. And I rub my flank steak. And I leave that like that to marinate overnight before to finish it the next day. And it give a really a nice woody, nutty - it's very interesting.

MARTIN: What does it taste like on its own? Like, does it taste like chips or a nut or what does it taste like?

DESHAYES: OK. So for the dry ones, I try because after that I have a lot of people who came from work and said, chef, I would like to try. Give me the opportunity to try. So I give them the dry one, and it's like chips. It doesn't taste anything. I did this one with a nice sea salt, you know. And if you close your eyes - different type of snacks, you will not know that it's cicadas.

MARTIN: Let's say you're at a cookout this Memorial Day and somebody has taken the plunge and they've cooked up some cicada kebabs or something like that. Is there something you would recommend them to encourage people to try them? Would you say just lay it out there and put them in a bowl like some chips, or would you put it in something, or what would you do?

DESHAYES: Well, first, when you have somebody, you need to talk and to be very enthusiastic and show them. Then you eat them like a candy yourself, too, you know.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

DESHAYES: This is what I have done. You know, people who has been working with me really long time, know me, then I will not do that. But, you know, I proposed to them, and they have this kind of sort of face, oh, no, I don't want that. Look. I eat them like a candy. And you do that in front of them and say, wow OK, so what - who I am different, you know what I mean? Like, try it. And after, when they try, some of them, I said, can I have some more?

DESHAYES: And some of them are like, no, thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK, Chef, you've been a lot of fun. I just have to say, a lot of people are probably getting together maybe for the first time in a long time with family in some parts of the country, where people are finally getting vaccinated, and people are finally having get-togethers. I think it's going to be kind of an emotional experience for a lot of people. What else do you recommend?

DESHAYES: Of course, finally for the first time. You're exactly right, Michel. I think Memorial Day is going to be a great weekend, you know what I mean? Because you still pay attention. You protect yourself. But this is what we have been missing, you know. We've not been missing not going to work. We've been missing going to see our grandparents. We've been missing to see father and sister and mother and share this experience. And I'm sure with that, the level of relationship would be different. We're going to value more the time we spending with our families.

MARTIN: That was Xavier Deshayes. He is the executive chef at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here in Washington, D.C. And he has been guiding us through cicada cooking (laughter). Chef, thank you so much. Thank you so much for joining us.

DESHAYES: No, Michel. Thank you very much. And enjoy your great weekend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.