Recipe: Fish and Cicada Jaew

This is a bulk recipe made for a large gathering, or about a year’s worth.



Mortar and pestle (6 quart capacity?)


Broil or roast on a grill the following:

6 large jalapeños

6 shallots

3 whole garlic bulbs

According to my mother, you could wait until after a heavy rain and pick the cicadas off the bushes, or wherever you find them. But the best ones are found in Fort Meyers, where she goes to buy them freshly bagged (and still live) from harvesters who probably sell them at a local farmer’s market.  They’re sold in snack-sized Ziplock bags (fits about a dozen) for $5/bag, a much better value than the $5 frozen 3-packs found in most Asian markets. Sure they come from Thailand, but how many people are three bugs going to feed?

[Toasted cicadas]

She’d already carefully toasted them by the time I’d visited. In a slow oven, they were toasted until crispy but not burnt. She showed them off to her friend Ma Dao, who promptly popped one in her mouth, the way I would a potato chip. She smiled at me. Perfect for Jaew Mang Da, a dip made from powdered cicadas. Mom’s recipe includes powdered fish, which are gutted and toasted whole. She says people prefer her combination over similar jaews made with pork, beef, or only fish. The balance is nutty and briny, yet lighter than those made with red meat.

Mom’s a sensory cook. She cooks by feel, with her nose, her tastebuds. Therefore measurements (in the scientific sense) are nonexistent. As she coached me through the process, I was also dashing back to my journal in the other room to make notes. So my translation is an eyeball guess. My own cooking style is a blend of “cook by feel” and recipe exaction. As frustrating as it was trying to write down an heirloom recipe from someone who has never worked from a cookbook, I had fun piecing it all together.

To make the cicada (or fish) powder, make sure they are completely cooled and dry then carefully grind them in a blender until they are a fine powder. You may need to do this in small batches.  This recipe calls for 4 to 5 cups each of powdered cicada and powdered fish.

[Using the blender to make toasted cicada powder]

Grind in a mortar and pestle the jalapeños peppers until they are an integrated mush. Scoop out and set aside.

In mortar and pestle, grind together shallots and garlic until they form a smooth paste.  Alternatively add powdered cicada and powdered fish a cup at a time. Mash it until integrated. It will get very hard to work. Moisten, if desired with up to 1 cup of padek and additional warm water. Use up to 5 cups each of powdered cicada and powdered fish.  How much of the liquids you add depends on your textural preference and taste. I prefer my jaew to have enough liquid to surrender and pop under a ball of sticky rice, but thick enough to hold its shape without effort.

[Mashing to the right consistency]

Add mashed jalapeños to taste.

Mom’s got an intricate network of purveyors. During the week I was visiting, I was awoken by a loud knock in the dark of early morning by someone on their way to market. Next thing I know she’s shouting my name so I can carry in a crate each of mini bananas and persimmons. But that’s another story.

[Dinner includes green papaya salad, broiled chicken wingtips, poached fish and greens, Jaew Mang Da, and fresh persimmons]

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