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A well-earned feast

Passport & Plate - A giant hornet feast

Japan | Saturday, 22 February 2014 | 5 photos

A fresh nest of giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia)
Soy sauce
(NB: The soy sauce to mirin ratio should be roughly 1:2, and the liquid should be sufficient to just cover the hornets in the saucepan)
Fresh ginger (cut into thin strips)
Chillis (optional)
Cooking oil
Wasabi for the adventurous

Necessary equipment:
Large tweezers
Frying pan
Kitchen paper


How to prepare this recipe
1. Using a large pair of tweezers, extract each individual hornet from the nest. As with so many things, this is best done in good company, with a glass of chilled white wine (and if wine's not available, a cold beer will do the trick quite nicely). It's also important to know what you'll be dealing with. A fresh nest will contain three types of hornet: (a) Moving larvae in open cells; (b) larvae undergoing metamorphosis with a white cap over each cell; (c) larvae that have nearly completed their metamorphosis and already have striped, hard bodies and sometimes even wings.
Type (a) can be removed fairly easily with tweezers and put into a single bowl.
To extract types (b) and (c), one must first remove the white cap. It's probably easiest to do this by hand. The larvae should then be placed into two separate bowls for each type.

(NB: Type (b) larvae are also delicious eaten raw, and simply dipped in soy sauce and wasabi. Eaten this way, however, they are very rich, and one or two will probably be enough!)

2. Using a toothpick, remove the insides from the type (a) larvae. This is a fairly easy process once you get the hang of it. Insert the toothpick just below the mouth of the larvae, and use a hooking motion to extract the digestive system in one quick movement.

3. Place the type (a) and (b) larvae in a large saucepan. Add soy sauce, mirin and ginger. Chilli can also be added at this point for those who like their hornets with a spicy kick. Simmer for at least 40 minutes. Add sugar to taste.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the type (c) larvae: Heat 1inch of cooking oil in a frying pan. Add a single larvae to the oil; if it bubbles and fries quickly the oil is sufficiently hot. Fry the larvae in batches of about 8-10 individuals. Each batch should take roughly 1minute and once ready the larvae should be removed with a slotted spoon and placed on kitchen paper to soak up excess oil. Sprinkle with salt to taste, and serve hot.

5. The simmered larvae can be served hot or cold. They can also be frozen and reheated at any time.


The story behind this recipe
In order to remind myself of the story behind this recipe, I delved into the depths of my freezer and reheated some of the frozen hornet larvae that I collected and cooked during Autumn last year. Hornet larvae are an Autumn dish, enjoyed at a time when fruits and vegetables are also harvested in abundance. Thus, hornet larvae truly are a 'feast' food. The taste of freshly cooked giant hornets is luxurious, and incomparable to any other dish that I have come across.

The recipe above belongs to the wife of an expert hornet hunter. To 'hunt' and collect giant hornets, one must be both very fit and very brave. Locating the nest requires detailed knowledge of the forested, mountainous terrain in which they live, and the ability to move swiftly across it. Extracting the nest from its location below ground requires a great deal of bravado, since the process attracts a concentrated attack from between 100 to 400 'killer' hornets.

I was lucky enough to accompany hornet hunters on several such trips. Each 'hunt' is unique, and during the hunt one may encounter new and unforeseen obstacles. Trees must be climbed, steep slopes must be scaled, and rivers must be crossed. These are all par for the course, and attempted with unflagging enthusiasm in pursuit of the ultimate goal: A nest of giant hornets, which can be dug up and brought back to the village, a trophy beyond compare to accompany the Autumn harvest.

This trophy is not simply brought back and consumed. First, parts of the nest are shared among neighbours. For example, a piece must be given to the man previously hailed as the most skilled hornet hunter in the village, who at 90-plus is now to old to hunt.

After the initial sharing process is complete, those who have participated in the hunt gather together. Each hunter helps to extract the hornets from the nest, jovially recollecting the day's events, and accompanied by the unparalleled combination of a chilled beer and the occasional hornet sashimi.

About libertyruth

A fellow hunter and I, with our freshly dug hornet nest

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