John Lethlean: eat­ing in­sects. A culi­nary tour of Si­cily.

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - JOHN LETHLEAN leth­leanj@theaus­tralian.com.au

Chefs write books to sell ta­bles. Equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers do it to sell gad­gets (hello Ther­momix). And, oc­ca­sion­ally, food pro­duc­ers write books to sell … crick­ets. Yes, folks, we have an early con­tender for the cov­eted ti­tle of Stu­pid­est Cook­book of the Year.

In­tro­duc­ing Eat Grub, a shameless pro­mo­tional ex­er­cise by — can you be­lieve it? — two cricket farm­ers and bug mar­keters in Bri­tain. Just when you thought all that non­sense from chefs about in­sects be­ing the next big thing was fi­nally over, along comes a hard­back de­voted en­tirely to the sub­ject of cook­ing bugs. It must be the first food book given over to a sin­gle in­gre­di­ent very few of us can ac­tu­ally buy.

Even in Eng­land, whence au­thors and in­sect farm­ers Shami Ra­dia and Neil Whippey hail, I don’t imag­ine you sim­ply pop down to Tesco for buf­falo worms when the urge over­comes you to whip up a batch of “spiced buf­falo worm bar­be­cue sauce”. Or meal­worms when you need flour to make tor­tillas.

Putting self-suf­fi­ciency aside for a moment, the only way in Aus­tralia to get the in­gre­di­ents re­quired for most of the recipes in Eat Grub (why not sim­ply Grub?) — as far as I know — is to pur­chase on­line.

Go to Ed­i­ble Bug Shop on­line and, for a mere $260 a kilo, you can get frozen crick­ets de­liv­ered to your door “ready to use in your favourite recipe”. Wow! Does that mean I can make spaghetti car­bonara with grasshop­pers in­stead of guan­ciale?

“Crick­ets have a mild nutty taste, and take on the flavours that are around them,” says the web­site. “So are pre­fect (sic) for a curry or stir fry, just add them in 1-2 min­utes be­fore the end of cook­ing.”

Right then. They’re frozen and travel long dis­tances; it’s not sound­ing like a gour­mand lo­cal/ sea­sonal prod­uct with low food miles to me.

You can al­most buy caviar for that kind of money but, then, a kilo of crick­ets is prob­a­bly the equiv­a­lent of a plague ca­pa­ble of lib­er­at­ing all the Is­raelites from slav­ery first time round. For­tu­nately, they come in 250g packs ($65).

The au­thors of Eat Grub point out that nearly half the world’s pop­u­la­tion eat in­sects “while the other half find the very idea re­volt­ing”. I’m a bit of a fence sit­ter. But there’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween en­to­mophagy (in­sect eat­ing) and cook­ing with the things. And I’m all for the for­mer. I know in­sects are a form of cheap and abun­dant pro­tein with, there­fore, a strong en­vi­ron­men­tal ar­gu­ment.

But, like plenty of Aussies, I’ve eaten grasshop­pers in Thai­land; all I tasted was cheap soy sauce that left, as Dame Edna Ever­age once said of les­bian­ism, a foul taste in my mouth. They have crisp ex­oskele­tons and are mushy inside. There were green ants on a dish at Noma in Syd­ney; used as an al­most cit­ric sea­son­ing — like finger lime — they worked a treat.

And as Calvin W. Sch­wabe, au­thor of one of my favourite food books, asks some­where be­tween the cov­ers of who was the first per­son who looked at a lob­ster and thought “din­ner”?

They’re all ugly crit­ters, I get it, but you cook a lob­ster and it’s bloody sen­sa­tional to eat. In­sects, on the other hand, are more a kind of sen­si­ble pro­tein pill, some­thing you might do be­cause you have to, not be­cause you want to.

But, if you have to, and can be both­ered or­der­ing the things on­line, and can af­ford to eat in­sects … if you have a sud­den in­fes­ta­tion and want to take your re­venge by eat­ing the blessed things … if you wake up and re­alise life won’t be com­plete un­til you cook and eat red curry cricket rice cakes, grasshop­per and mal­tose por­ridge or baked cricket and mush­room nut loaf … then is the book for you.

I’ll stick to tofu.

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