billy's bugs

A bug-eating time

Pest Control’s Pestaurant

One of the UK’s leading pest control companies has taken up bug eating. Although a PR stunt, Rentokil has found their insect snacks to be too popular for their supply chain.

Two weeks ago Rentokil showed off their sense of humour by offering free insect snacks to those who dare ate them – the same insects that they are often employed to remove and exterminate from the hidden dark corners of your house or office.

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Saucy, interesting, seductive, The Evening Standard’s page 3 promoted the event, based on the bypass beside One New Square, beside St. Paul’s, in their Monday 12 August edition. As I work nearby, I felt this would the perfect opportunity to introduce my work colleagues to the world of eating insects.

The invite was sent, and not many RSVP’ed with “attending”, but a brave bunch of five did. “Meet outside our office at 13:00” I wrote. Nervous “Ok”, “Alright” and “Really!?” I got back, hesitant that we were actually going to go.

Rentokil had decided to open the pop-up at 10:30 that morning. However, very unfortunately, we arrived just as they run out of insects. When I asked one of the Rentokil ‘pest-chefs’ whether any more may be coming, I got a reply that they had tried, but the stock had run out due to the demand. I think everyone was surprised.

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My 5 brave colleagues

ANYWAY, thank god it was such a success! Rentokil found it to be so popular, that they decided to host another pop-up in London’s Science Museum, and I have just got back from it.

This time, knowing that it would be just as busy as the one at St. Paul’s, I was ready and waiting from the start.

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Peataurant’s popularity

As we queued, mixed bugs were passed around by pest-chefs. While being ‘forced’ to listen to an eager foody lecture on how she had tried monkey brain and donkey phallis, and that “I did not like it, BUT I DID IT!” (this was reiterated several times), the rest of us were able to munch on barbecued flavoured bamboo worms and salted mixed worms. Salty, a bit nutty, and not something I would go back for.

The queue went one, and so I met a couple. They were far more adventurous than I. I told them about my interest, and that I would love to start my own business to make insects a more commercial food. No doubt they were riveted.

A few further steps along in the queue and we were presented with a water bug – it’s a biggy:

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The big one; Water Bug

Now I am keen on these bugs; at least in terms of getting them to be accepted and not being any stranger to eat than shellfish. However, this water bug trumped me.

It’s shell was hard, it’s eyes were big enough to make eye contact with, and it was easy to imagine it sprinting across a floor in a scary, unpredictable, insect way. Eventually, encouraged by my new friends – who had eaten one between them – I chomped at its head.

So apart from the unappetising look that an insect has, the issue with which I have my real problem with insects is as follows: Many compare prawns, shrimps and lobsters as being the insects of the sea. I agree, however the insects of the sea have a fleshy bite to them, which the insects of the land crucially, and to their great detriment, lack. I have yet to find an insect that gives back a meaty texture when bitten into, but instead the insects have a texture of shell – the sensation of gnawing on crab shell is similar – and not satisfying.

With the water bug being the size of a King Prawn, I had thought that this may be the one to show me the meatiness of an insect. No.

More insects were tried, and although Rentokil have done an awesome two events with their Pestaurant, they have not yet convinced me that there is a way to make bugs taste moorish, nor give it a gratifying texture to your tongue.

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Waxworms

On a Tuesday morning, my postman and I discovered a quick, water-free way to wake your eyes from the heavy hanging feeling of a weekday morning. When some 100 waxworms arrived in a small tub, we acknowledged that the day was too early for such a strange exchange.

A waxworm is not much more than 2cm long, ivory in colour, and it has the unappetising look of a maggot. Nevertheless, I had a lot of hope for this insect. As a worm, I imagined a fleshy push biting into them. My instincts told me that frittering would not work with this one. So, with the meatiness of them stuck in my head I planned for the same sort of dish as that you would use with a prawn. Stir-fry, South-East Asian style.

As the waxworms thawed, instead of fleshy prawn-like meat, the worms seemed to empty as if all they ever are is a sack of skin. Time for boiling to invigorate the tiny beasts!! But not so, forgetting that a good rule of thumb is to boil an insect before cooking them in which what way after.

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Thawing waxworms

Tonights’ guests were my good friend Dom, and my girlfriend Luna. I am starting to notice that people prefer cooking insects more than they do other foods, but they are not so keen to eat it as other foods. Maybe that is where the business should be: insect cooking lessons!!

We settled for frying the waxworms in butter. To my delight the worms grew fatter and longer as they heated. Maybe the grubs just needed to be eaten at 200 degrees.

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Butter fried

With our stir-fry vegetables added, seasoned, and parpika’d, mixed herb’d, garlic’d, and chilli’d, we felt ready to serve the waxworm stir-fry starter.

With cautious enthusiasm we each each rushed to fork as many vegetables on our plate. Then, the big moment.

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Cautious excitement

A waxworm, at least the way we managed to cook them, tastes like a clipping of toughened, hardened, and if you like, weathered skin from the sole of your foot. Despite our best effort with the herb and spice cupboard they too lacked much taste. For texture and taste, it was a disappointing start to my waxworm adventure. Nevertheless the stir-fry starter was munched, crunched and gobbled.

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Almost all gone

Waxworms, I have not given up on you. I am expecting better things next time!

The Billy Bug Game 2!!

Billy catching as many bugs as he can (unfortunately we do not see him eat them after).

*I do not own any legal rights in this game.

The Billy Bug Game!!

Feed the bug up! 

*I do not own any legal right in this game.

Red ants and their pupae

It has been over three weeks, but the BBC documentary “Can Eating Insects Save the World?” has lasted long in my memory. The lingering question I cannot answer is ‘where can I find the tastiness of red ants and their pupae?’.

Locusts, grasshoppers, meal worms and cockroaches are easy to find, but red ants hiding away.

A waxwork starter for me and a few friends later…

The second tasting

How best to get people trying your buggy snacks than a dinner party.

With around 80 locusts frozen in my freezer I was ready to offer a starter and dessert with this ‘new’ meat. I invited five brave friends, and lured them with the promise that the main course would be French.

When all arrived, we boiled the locusts up for six – seven minutes. Locusts turn from their natural yellowy-grey colour to a lobster-red when boiled up. Perfect! It makes them look much more appetising. The difference between a wet grey bolognese and a meaty-red succulent one changes your appetite. Locusts have no different effect.

Lobster-red locusts

Lobster-red locusts

Once boiled and drained, we mixed our four-inch food in with the batter (egg, milk, flour, chilli powder, baking powder, water, salt, paprika, fennel seeds). Thickly coated we sprinkled them in the bubbling sunflower oil to let them fritter and harden.

Like a fine steak, we considered it best if we let them rest for a short while. Camera ready (the video below), nerves hardened, we took turns to choose, handle and then munch on the base of Locusts No.2. No one rated below a 6. I consider this a victory.

Beer and wine flowed, and we found ourselves picking the bugs up more easily, even nonchalantly popping them in with a smother of sweet-chilli sauce.

Main course – drinks – talking – ready for bugs and chocolate.

Fondue, especially chocolate fondue can go with anything. Marshmallows, chilli, asparagus, all work. Although a more gimmicky front of this food, our bugs were dipped in the warm melted chocolate and tasted so much better than any of us had imagined.

A much improved step from the first cooking session.

Next up: Mealworms!

Locust No.2

The first taste of our locust starter