How to Cook a Killer Hornet
This week, the New York Times introduced many of us to the killer hornet, better known as the Asian giant hornet. But a small part of us were already familiar with this error, because we ate it .
Despite its size and the fact that the Asian giant hornet kills 50 people every year in Japan, it is also a delicacy . So while you might be wondering how to kill it, me and Chef Joseph Yun, founder of Brooklyn Bugs , wondered how to cook it. To highlight just how versatile these beetles can be, Chef Yoon has created a range of dishes that emphasize delicate flavor and texture, as well as a shocking appearance.
First, if you’re completely lost, here’s a bit of backstory: Last fall, Canadian keepers discovered a colony of these hornets in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The authorities destroyed this nest. In December, a Washington resident reported seeing two of these hornets as well: one was killed and taken to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, and the other flew away. These insects most likely arrived in shipping containers and it is unlikely they are currently found outside of Vancouver Island, Doug Yanega, senior researcher at UC Riverside Research Museum of Entomology, said in an email statement. The name for these insects comes from their ability to kill bees, and they pose a threat to bees in the United States that have not developed a defense against giant hornets.
But enough of that. How to eat them?
Many cultures around the world eat insects. The practice did not quite spread to the United States, but a 2013 Food and Agriculture Organization report sparked renewed interest in including edible insects in our diets – they are rich in protein and other nutrients, but less resource intensive. This is especially important for a warming world that will need to feed 9 billion people by 2050.
Since Asian giant hornets are already a delicacy, Yoon was able to acquire them dead and ready to eat from Entosense .
Yoon began the menu with a popcorn snack served with raw hornets on top to bring out the grainy insect flavor. He tucked popcorn with wasabi fumi furikake (a Japanese mixture of dried seasonings made from salt, seaweed, bonito flakes, wasabi, and other flavors) and sal de gusano (salt made from chili powder, salt, lime, and gusano worms). Then he simply put the raw hornets on top: “If my sponsor tells me it’s safe to eat, I’ll always eat them raw first, just to see how they taste,” he said.
It’s almost impossible to flavor something so unfamiliar to your taste, but he likened hornets to “cool popcorn” with a light grain flavor like flaxseed or wheat. Insects have exoskeletons, so these large insects have a texture similar to a deep-fried shrimp head that is eaten whole with a slice of sweet shrimp sushi , although they may be slightly less meaty on the inside. Many insects have a “smack” that I personally can describe as a kind of earthy or musty aftertaste (sort of like an old basement smells, but good); others compare the taste to mushrooms.
“This is a very simple dish, no fuss and no fuss,” he explained. “I just love to show and demonstrate how easy it is to add insects to our kitchen. People can criticize me and say that all you did was put it on top of the popcorn. Yes, and you can do it too. “
Harvesting and processing denatures the venom so commercial hornets can be eaten raw, however people with shellfish allergies are likely to be allergic to some edible insects as well. Yoon said that if someone asked him to remove the sting, he would. “But we are living in a pandemic. Live a little. “
But you don’t have to eat them raw. Yoon made a spring roll with hornets for a snack. First, he fried the hornets with onions, chili, garlic and gochujang, a Korean chili paste, to give the insects more flavor and aroma. He then blended them with cooked mushrooms to accentuate the insect funk, and a salad of radicchio, mint, parsley, cucumber, fennel, bok choy, and carrots for color and crispiness. He tucked the filling with a bandage that included cricket hydrolysates – a substance made from the process that separates and breaks down cricket proteins – and wrapped it all in rice paper wrappers. He paired this with gochujang sauce for the dipping.
Yoon used the garlic-chili-salt-pepper-fried hornets for the killer hornet ram, as a tribute to the Korean American for the Oscar-winning movie Parasite , and as a tribute to the fact that he, too, is stuck at home and has to cook dishes with what he has at hand . Ram-dong, or Zhapaguri, is a blend of two popular Korean packaged noodles: chapaghetti, which resembles a noodle dish called chajangmyeon, and neoguri, a spicy, seafood-flavored noodle soup. Yoon decorated the lamb with hornets and garnished the dish with daikon sprouts, chayote pumpkin, chili, garlic, and quail eggs. “It was fucking awesome,” he said.
As with all gourmet meals, you must drink; why not add hornet sake for a musty sip on the sting? “There is nothing better than a little courage to get you to try something new,” Yun said.
You don’t have to limit yourself (or your taste) to giant adults – you can also eat the larva Yun bought already canned in soy sauce and mirin, a rice wine used for cooking. The canning process turns the soft insects into an umami bomb, which Yun served with chili powder and garlic on top of a six-minute hard-boiled egg.
When it comes to making them at home, you have a variety of options. Yoon obtains processed and freeze-dried hornets from suppliers, so they don’t soften much from the boil, but there are other potential drugs in addition to those described above. You can deep-fry them, or even grind them into powder and mix with sauce or bread dough. But Yoon advised not to use the latter with hornets, as they are quite expensive. “Due to the difficulty of obtaining them and the high cost, I believe they should be respected as an ingredient.”
While eating giant hornets may seem like a novelty, there are many species of edible insects that are already familiar to taste all over the world. Both Asian giant hornets and smaller Vespula flaviceps are found in Japanese cuisine , and silkworm pupae, or bondegi, appear on the menus of Korean street food vendors. Grasshoppers, called chapulins, give some Mexican dishes the salty flavor of goji berries, and formic acid, a defense mechanism, gives black ants a unique sour flavor. I personally ate them plus cockroach (which tastes less pungent blue cheese), June beetle (which is very salty), locusts (which also has a corn-like taste) and even invasive palm weevil (which tastes “funky”).
Eating insects sounds disgusting to some, but people eat and enjoy them. It just takes a set of recipes and knowledge of best practices to turn them into a dish. Done right, they can taste very good indeed.