Caterpillars! (I&W launch party – part 4 of 7)

Gosh, we do have a lot of insects to write about!

This is part 4 of 7, so we’re halfway through. We’re very lucky with this one: Caterpillars collected in June by a woman in Burkina Faso (west Africa) who decided to sun-dry some of her harvest.

When I spoke to her in March, she decided to give me some of her dried caterpillars as a gift to take back to the UK.

So, after cooking them following the traditional method, we served them up with a selection of wines…

#4 Caterpillars!  By Clara

The freshly cooked caterpillars disappeared pretty quickly at our tasting evening!

The caterpillars came after locusts and grasshoppers, which had been prepared with chili and soy sauce respectively. I was already familiar with a similar type of caterpillars from DR Congo rather than Burkina Faso, but having them with wine rather than beer was a first, and I found that red wine in particular worked very well.

The locusts and grasshoppers had been delicious as bar snacks – crunchy intense bursts of sweet or spicy flavour – but the caterpillars were destined to be a hearty main course, perhaps comparable to a ragout or ratatouille to have with rice. Charlotte had prepared them according to the recipe from the Burkinabé village where she worked – with onion, tomato and red pepper, and you could imagine them also going well with other Mediterranean vegetables like courgette or yellow peppers, perhaps with some red chilis.

I first tried the caterpillars with the light white wine that had combined well with my last taste of chilli grasshoppers, but the bold and savoury flavour of the caterpillars called for a complementary red. I found the caterpillars rather different from the other insects in this respect – most were crunchy and light, paired well with a white wine, but the meaty and firm texture and flavour of the caterpillars came into their own with a rounded and spicy red wine. The caterpillars were remarkable for their strong scent and taste, perhaps one of the insects that seems most unusual to western palates. Where the locusts and grasshoppers absorbed the qualities of their seasoning, the caterpillars had a bold character that deserves to be balanced with similarly strident tones – and an intense, peppery red wine might work best of all.

So now you know! Unfortunately, the caterpillars proved so popular that I’ve none left for a retrospective pairing photo, but here’s a handy diagram to help you remember:

Chris adds: Looking at the reds we had on offer for the tasting, I’d say the wine Clara has in mind is the Cedre Heritage Malbec 2014 . It’s a Malbec, but more importantly, it’s from Cahors, in France. This is Malbec’s home, and the wines made here are much more bold and assertive than the ones you may have had from Argentina. They’re traditionally big, powerful wines – the sort you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. The Cedre Heritage is toned done, but still full-bodied. The other red that might fit the bill was the Cannonau di Sardegna ‘Mumuthone’ 2014, from Sardinia. Cannonau is the local name for Grenache, so another relatively powerful, full-bodied red, but not quite so much as the Cahors.

Would you like to know a bit more about what caterpillars taste like? Read some descriptions here!

Would you like to try buying and coking some caterpillars of your own to go with an intense, peppery red? There are a few places that sell caterpillars online – and also, check out your local African foodstore!

If you do manage to get hold of some, here’s a recipe. We used a bit of a modified version for our launch event, so I’ll post that one soon on this blog.

And finally, if you’d like to contribute something to our knowledge of edible caterpillars and to the livelihoods of the people who collect them, please consider backing this crowdfunding campaign for a research project on experiment.com.

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