A simple recipe turns Mormon crickets into a tasty treat
The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Crickets
The tops of the mountains were white with the first snow, but the meadow parklands were warm in the bright sunshine. Elk hunters were setting up camps along the meadow edges, gearing up for the big annual hunt. My son, Charlie, and I hiked through the late summer grass.
We had only taken a few steps into the meadow before we noticed the ground was alive. Grasshoppers sprung out of our way at every step. Amongst them, dark, wingless insects scurried for the nearest sagebrush. Charlie picked one up and marveled at the long antennae and terrifying but harmless ovipositor on the end of its abdomen.
“That’s a katydid!” Charlie said. The young naturalist was right. Mormon crickets (Anabrus simplex) are members of the katydid family. They occupy portions of the West from the Dakotas to the coast but are especially common in parts of Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. They’re big, with adult females measuring two inches or more.
Crickets Make Easy Pickings
I’m certainly not the first person to wonder what they taste like. In fact, accounts indicate that Indigenous people had no qualms about consuming Mormon crickets. They were even a regular staple in the seasonal diet of the Utes (Nuutsiu) in what is now Utah.
By now, most readers (and even seasoned outdoorspeople) will be cringing. Why even bother trying to eat insects? The answer lies in the concept of optimal foraging. Weigh the investment of energy to procure them versus the energy obtained. Insects are considered the most underutilized food source for humans, a notable fact when one considers growing human populations. They also provide far more protein per pound of consumed vegetation than livestock.
Bringing home a meal of insects may not have the bragging rights associated with procuring a large animal, but it is still worth your while. A handful of crickets pales in comparison to the big bull elk that most people are looking for on the mountains in September, but they also don’t require camping equipment, bows, camo, calls, or licenses. In fact, they require no specialized equipment at all to harvest. So harvest them we did.
Getting Past Cricket Legs
The Utes collected baskets of Mormon crickets, dried them in the sun, then ground them into energy-packed cakes. However, we were satisfied with collecting a few water bottles full to taste. I decided to take it easy on our delicate American palates by frying them.
After quickly realizing that both the defensive “tobacco” juice that the crickets spit and their bowels were quite bitter, I decided to “clean” them. Off came legs and the long, stinger-like ovipositor. After a quick slit with a sharp knife and a rinse, each cricket was ready to fry.
In Mexico, grasshoppers (chapulines) are regularly enjoyed as a snack. Simple seasonings of salt, lime, and chili are a perfect way to add zest to Mormon crickets without masking their flavor.
Unlike grasshoppers, Mormon crickets don’t have wings that need to be removed. This also makes them significantly easier to catch. If you don’t live where there are Mormon crickets, try this recipe with grasshoppers. Collect them on a cool morning when they’re moving slowly. Humanely dispatch them by popping them in the freezer for an hour or so when you get home.
Mormon Cricket Chapulines
- Frying pan
- Sharp knife or pointed scissors
- Cutting board
- Paper towels
- 40 Mormon crickets
- 1/8 cup cooking oil peanut, sunflower, etc.
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 lime
- 1 tsp chili paste or hot sauce
- Remove legs, ovipositors, and entrails from each cricket. Rinse thoroughly then pat dry with paper towels.
- Warm oil in a pan over medium-high heat till oil ripples.
- Slide crickets into the pan.
- Quickly season with salt and a squeeze of lime.
- Cook two minutes, tossing to cook evenly.
- Add chili/hot sauce and remove from heat.
- Drain on paper towels and serve with lime wedges.
Josh Tatman is a conservation writer, upland hunter, and angler from northern Wyoming. Follow him on Instagram @slim_tatman.