I had just finished my last post about my pal Mike and his wife Bridget harassing me from Oaxaca with their photos and videos of delicious meals, when they returned — bearing gifts!
There was a lovely and colorful dishtowel, a jar of black mole paste which to this cook is as good as its weight in gold, and there was a small jar of chapulines — roasted grasshoppers.
On the adventurous eater scale of 1 to 10, I consider myself about a 7. I’m no Anthony Bourdain. But I’ve recently been venturing more deeply into the euphemistically named world of “variety” meats, have sampled the slimiest offerings the world’s oceans put forth, and am a fan of such culinary curiosities as Japanese fermented natto and the stinking durian. There’s not a lot I won’t try, at least once. But one taxonomic class I have steadfastly resisted ingesting is that of the insect.
Most often when I think of eating insects, I am reminded of Nicolas Cage eating a live cockroach when he thinks he’s turning into a vampire in the film, “Vampire’s Kiss”.
Eating insects actually makes a lot of sense. They are eaten the world over, high in protein and low in fat. I’ve even heard they can be quite tasty. And I’ve probably eaten pounds of them without even realizing it.
“I was just reading an article about how they’re one of the most sustainable foods,” a friend was recounting recently.
And why would it make any more sense to eat, say, the leg of a pig or a fatty rib from a cow? Still, I was not sold on intentionally putting an insect in my mouth.
“Ooh! Chapulines!!” said Mike and Bridget’s 6-year-old son, Griffin, when he caught sight of the jar, and rushed in for a taste.
“Not too many!” his mom cautioned him, presumably that there would be plenty left for the rest of us. And then she turned to me.
I was on the spot.
I took a medium-sized specimen from the jar, feeling more like I was in science class than in the kitchen. I looked the other direction and thought of happy things as I feigned nonchalance and popped the bug into my mouth.
“How was it?” my friend Sean asked the following night, as I recounted the story to him and then kicked myself when I remembered that I had been planning on sharing the love and regifting the chapulines to HIM that very evening!
“I chewed the fewest number of times possible — two, I think,” I confessed. A slug of Mike’s Del Maguey mezcal helped wash the insect down.
Surprisingly, the insect tasted quite good, once I got past the sensation of it’s abdomen popping between my teeth. Not good enough, mind you, for a second. At least not yet. After a few days of gazing at them sitting untouched on the kitchen counter, I decided to share them with a very receptive audience — the chickens.
“After all, how much different is it really than eating a shrimp or a clam?” my wife suggested the evening of the chapulines‘ debut at our house. Of course, she refused to try one.
The day after Thanksgiving, Bridget invited us to a “leftover turkey sandwich” party at their house. I promised to bring a variety of pickles and aioli for the sandwiches, and stuff to make turkey mole tacos. There were certain to be chapulines there. Sure enough, there they were, in a large jar on the table. Our friend, Heather — a Vassar girl who likes to fancy herself adventurous — tried to try one, but as soon as it touched her throat, it inspired a cat-hairball-like contortion and came projectile shooting back out.
Perhaps a few sips of mezcal would embolden me to give the grasshopper another try. Or… perhaps not. There was always the next life.
* * *
Turkey mole tacos
1 lb. cooked dark meat turkey, roughly shredded
2 tbsp. lard
1 cup mole sauce
1 medium red onion, sliced lengthwise into slivers
1 cup white vinegar or apple vinegar
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup crumbled queso cotija
12 taco-size corn tortillas
Make onion pickles: Place sliced red onion in a bowl with vinegar and oregano, and toss to combine. Let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 hours.
Brush each of the 12 tortillas with a little lard, stack and set aside.
Melt remaining lard in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add turkey and fry, stirring occasionally, until it begins to crisp up and turn golden. Reduce heat to medium-low and add mole sauce. (Use a little chicken broth or water to thin if it seems too thick.) Stir and reduce heat to low.
While turkey mole is simmering, place a large pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, toast the tortillas, a minute or two on each side, until they crisp up slightly. Remove from heat.
Compose tacos: Scoop a tablespoon of turkey mole into the center of each taco. Top with some pickled onions and a little sprinkle of queso cotija, and serve.