Escamoles (Ant Larvae) Ice Cream
Last weekend my friend Andreas Johnsen premiered his new documentary BUGS at the Tribeca Film Festival.
I was planning an ice cream social for the same day and my friend Aaron suggested we make bugs ice cream in honor of Andreas’s film. I talked with Andreas and he was excited by the idea, so he arranged for his friend JC Redon to bring fresh escamoles from Mexico. We planned a gathering for bug ice cream cranking & tasting on the popular High Line in New York City.
Escamoles are the larvae of ants that live under Agave roots and they are very popular in Mexico City. JC specializes in farming and cooking these delicious little treats. I was dubious about his ability to bring 10kg of escamoles through customs, but the JFK officials gave him no trouble and didn’t even need to see his papers.
I prepared the ice cream with escamol-cooking advice from JC and Roberto Flore (Head Chef at Nordic Food Lab). The Nordic Food Lab’s lead researcher, Josh Evans, joined us as well.
We decided to blanch the escamoles in milk and then blend them to get a smooth texture and lots of flavor.
Here’s the recipe (for a 3-quart freezer):
- 300g frozen escamoles
- 1 (chicken) egg
- 338g (1.5 cups) sugar
- 473mL (1 US pint) heavy whipping cream
- approx. 1L milk (a little over a quart)
To prepare, put the escamoles in enough milk to cover them and heat on a low temperature.
Once the escamoles look plump and a bit firmer, they are probably cooked. Let the milk and escamoles cool.
In a large mixing bowl whisk together the chicken egg and the sugar until it’s thick and pale. (Note – I used fewer chicken eggs than I normally would since the ant eggs should serve a similar purpose.)
Whisk the cream into the egg & sugar.
After you’ve let the escamoles cool, blend them with a hand blender until the milk & escamol mix is fairly smooth. The egg-membranes will be a little bit clumpy, but that’s OK.
Next, press the escamoles through a fine sieve with a spoon. You want to get as much of it through as you can and you’ll end up with a pile of membranes left over (you can save these for use in another dish). The smooth escamol milk will be a little bit dark and have a very strong flavor.
Combine the escamol milk with the cream, sugar and egg mix and whisk together. Add about a liter of fresh milk and whisk it in. You should have enough mix to fill a 3-quart White Mountain can about 3/4 full.
Now you’re ready to crank!
It was a hot Saturday afternoon and I had invited everyone to meet us on the High Line. Foolishly, I had not anticipated the crowds, so we found a corner just off the main thoroughfare and started cranking.
Probably a couple dozen people were there specifically for the ice cream social. But the spectacle quickly attracted hordes of passersby who stopped to marvel at the White Mountain Freezer and eventually to get a taste of the ice cream. Our guests were from all over the world and no one was put off by the idea of eating bugs, which was great. They were eager to taste the ice cream and there seemed to be unanimous approval of the flavor.
Afterward I counted leftover cups and worked out that we had served at least 70 happy people before we ran out of ice cream and got shut down by park security. Unfortunately the security guards arrived after we had scraped the can dry, so they did not get a taste.
p.s. Thanks to Aaron Davis for the photos!