NEW ORLEANS – The Audubon Insectarium's Thanksgiving turkey has a lot more legs than usual, but they're all in the stuffing.
During Thanksgiving week, the cornbread stuffing at the "Bug Appetit" kitchen will be studded with mealworms — beetle larvae more often used as fishbait or reptile treats. It's part of seasonal fare to be served at a spot where creepy crawlies are always on the menu.
Most of the year, you'll find the mealworms in salsa, along with such delicacies as deep-fried, spiced or sugared waxworms — wax moth caterpillars — and crickets in cream cheese spread or "chocolate chirp cookies."
Insectarium employees work at a stove and counter in full view of patrons, and anyone brave enough can have a taste.
"We don't make them all every day. Some things keep for a while in the fridge so we can make larger batches and dish out small amounts at a time," said Jayme Necaise, director of animal and visitor programs.
The bug museum will be closed for Thanksgiving itself, but the special menu will be served the two days before and the two after T-day. It also includes pumpkin pie with crickets and cranberry sauce with wax worms, the caterpillar of the wax moth.
Anyone who wants can try this at home, said Zack Lemann, the museum's visitor program manager. "These particular recipes follow an old adage for beginning bug chefs: if a recipe calls for small bits or chopped pieces of fruits, vegetables, nuts, or meat, you can add or substitute insects," he said.
So just take a favorite recipe and add bugs, making sure they've been raised in a pesticide-free environment. "Mealworms are usually boiled for a good 10 minutes. Wax worms are simmered for only three minutes or so. The softer body of wax worms will burst if boiled for too long, so we use less heat and less time when cooking them," he wrote in an email.
"Crickets are done at 350 for 30 minutes and stirred into the pie mix."
Allergy avoidance and yuck appeal are behind the choice of pumpkin for the cricket pie.
"They really stand out in the filling," Necaise said. "They would tend to get lost amongst all the gooey pecans in a pecan pie. We want people to know they are eating bugs to get the full experience!"
Besides, he noted, lots of people are allergic to nuts: "We wouldn't want for those folks to miss out eating delicious bug-filled pie."
But Lemann said pecan pie might be added to the menu: "Oven-roasted crickets taste like nuts, so they are a terrific culinary match to these traditional Thanksgiving desserts."
What Necaise is really excited about are two of the Insectarium's newest inhabitants — a male and female elephant beetle, native to Central American rainforests. The horned, hairy male is nearly 4 inches long.
For all of our blessings, we give eww thanks.