"People say you eat with your eyes," Peter Kim of the Franklin Room says. But when it came to making a cocktail with stinkbugs—a challenge issued by Alex Gara of Charlatan—Kim tried to do the opposite, tasting the thumbnail-size insects without thinking about what they looked like.
It didn't work that well. "Of the many times I tried them, I gagged about two-thirds of the time," Kim says. "They come with their little feet attached, and they fall off and get stuck in between your teeth. That's not the most pleasant thing."
Stinkbugs are known as jumiles in Mexico, where they're popular (they're also eaten in southern Africa and southeast Asia). The smelly secretions that give the bugs their name can be eliminated by removing the heads of the stinkbugs before eating them, soaking the bugs in warm water, or roasting them. Stinkbugs are often consumed alive, especially in tacos, and are rumored to live for up to a week after being beheaded and cooked.
The stinkbugs that Kim bought were frozen, and while it was easy to imagine a wiggle from a leg or antenna, they were decidedly deceased. He first tasted them frozen, and discovered that their flavor was almost nonexistent. "It kind of tasted like nothing, with a little bit of awfulness behind that, and then a touch of cinnamon coming in after that," Kim says.
Toasting the stinkbugs helped to bring out their flavor, which he describes as similar to a popcorn kernel, with a little cinnamon and red pepper heat at the end. "What goes well with salted popcorn? Caramel. What goes well with those things spirit-wise? Rum—it has that sugar basis."
To capture the flavor of the stinkbugs, Kim toasted and ground them, then steeped them with water and Everclear for an hour and a half. In addition to rum, he paired the tincture with house-made salted caramel grenadine, lime juice, and egg whites. Kim says that tasting the bugs over and over paid off in the long run—while the taste didn't exactly grow on him, it did become more familiar. "That gagging reflex was still there. But part of the challenge was to keep trying it until I got it right."
Kim has challenged Carl Moberg of Webster's Wine Bar to create a drink with doenjang, a Korean fermented soybean paste.
1.5 oz Parce 8 Year Old Rum
.75 oz lime juice
.75 oz salted caramel grenadine*
.5 toasted stinkbug tincture**
1 oz egg white
Combine all ingredients, mime shake, then shake hard with ice. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with Peychaud's Bitters, a mint leaf, and a toasted stinkbug.
*Salted caramel grenadine: Reduce Sugar in the Raw to a caramel consistency over low heat; add two parts heated pomegranate juice to one part sugar. Add a pinch of salt and enough lemon juice to brighten it up.
**Stinkbug tincture: Toast stinkbugs over medium-low heat (you will smell it when they're done), then grind in a coffee grinder. Vacuum-seal ten grams ground toasted stinkbug, five ounces of 195-proof neutral grain spirit, and five ounces of water and let sit at room temperature for three hours.