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Trail Chef: There’s a Worm on My Plate

And if prepared properly, it'll be quite tasty and good for you, too.
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Along with the following three recipes (found below) for cooking up creepy-crawlers, check out this video of BACKPACKER’S extreme (mostly eight-legged) taste taste: We Eat Bugs!

There’s a bug on my plate
In other "less civilized" parts of the globe, you’ll run into bug eaters (entomophagists) who crunch crickets with gusto and burp beetles with satisfaction. In similar fashion, We The People count among our culinary delights such invertebrates as oozy oysters, clammy clams, smelly shrimp, multi-legged lobsters, creepy crabs, squirmy squid, and even eels. But somewhere in the evolutionary process, we decided that insects and worms should be inedible. This perplexes me because on the zoological side of things, land bugs and sea bugs are closely related. And what about esthetics? How can anyone contend that lobsters are more appealing than grasshoppers? As for cleanliness, consider that honeybees are scrupulously tidy hivekeepers, whereas cattle love to lie around in their own droppings. Nutritionally, when you’re talking earthworms, you’re talking about a mess of protein in a little package: 60 to 70 percent on a dry weight basis, and a generally wholesome food source.

So where did we go astray? I have no idea. All I do know is that if you’re ever short of grub and deep in the bush, insects can stave off your hunger in a healthy way.

Bug-eating basics
Worms, like most invertebrates, don’t keep well and should be thrown into the pot still twitching or very soon after the twitching stops. After you’ve gathered a few handfuls, rinse in cold water. A colander works best, but you can also throw them in your water bottle, shake them up and pour off the water. (Extra care is called for if your meal preparations include insects with stingers, but on your early forays, I suggest you avoid them.) After a thorough cleansing, your food will be stunned and easier to handle. Pour them out on a clean cloth, carefully pick out the debris or any long-dead specimens, and pat the remainder dry. 

Worms are better if for about 24 hours you keep them in a container of dirt with a tablespoon or two of corn meal, bran meal, or some other dry food the worms will eat. They’ll seek out and feed on the grain, which pushes any dirt in their innards out the back end, and voila, you have stuffed, grit-free, read-to-cook worms. You can boil them and dive right in, or make your taste buds happier by spicing things up. Here are a few suggestions:

Basic Cooked Bugs
1 cup cleaned bugs (worms, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and/or honeybees)
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 dashes pepper
1 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon sage (optional)
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

Place all ingredients in a pan. Bring to boil. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Mashing everything into an unrecognizable glump will help with the first nibble.

Basic Bug Broth
1 cup cleaned bugs
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 dashes pepper
1 stalk diced celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
¼ teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
1 bay leaf (optional)
1 teaspoon parsley (optional)

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a pot. Cover and simmer about one hour. Cool and strain through a clean cloth, being sure to squeeze firmly to get all the juices out. Measure. If less than a cup, add water. If more than a cup, boil down.

Crickets and Mushrooms
1 cup basic cooked crickets (grasshoppers will do, too)
½ cup basic bug broth
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups finely chopped celery
¾ cup sliced mushrooms (gather in the wild only if you’re absolutely sure they’re edible)
½ cup sliced onion
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon ginger (optional but tasty)
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
2 cups cooked rice

Melt the butter in a large pan. Stir in and cook celery, mushrooms, onions, soy sauce, ginger, and pepper until celery is tender. Mix cornstarch and water. Stir cornstarch mixture and Bug Broth into vegetables and cook, stirring often until everything becomes thick. Stir in crickets. Heat a few moments more. Spoon over rice.

Earthworm Patty Supreme
1½ pounds thoroughly smushed earthworms
½ cup melted butter
1 teaspoon lemon rind
1½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 beaten egg
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter

Combine worms, melted butter, lemon rind, salt, and pepper. Shape into patties, dip in egg, then bread crumbs. Fry in a pan with butter for about 10 minutes, turning once.

(Recipes adapted from Entertaining With Insects by Ronald L. Taylor and Barbara J. Carter)

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