Cooking, Cooking & Eating, Savory

Klingon Gagh

Klingon gagh, no doubt, is the iconic food of the modern Star Trek canon. Whether it’s on The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, whenever a group of Klingon warriors congregate together to share a meal and sing a song, there are two things of which you can always be assured: first, that there will be loud calls, in mixed tones of anger and levity, for another barrel of blood wine; and second, that there will be the relished consumption of gagh.

According to Memory Alpha the great wiki repository of all things Star Trek canon, gagh is a Klingon delicacy made from serpent worms. Although most Klingons preferred it live, it could also be served stewed or cold.

It doesn’t sound appetizing. And in fact, in one of the great food scenes in all Star Trek, Commander Riker, getting ready to transfer aboard a Klingon vessel as part of an officer exchange program, takes a sort of philosophical view of the whole thing. His last meal aboard the Enterprise is a feast of so-called Klingon delicacies including — as he explains to Dr. Pulaski — pipius claw, heart of targ, and gag [sic].

Gagh?! Pulaski replies, in a kind of repulsed horror. And a conversation ensues in which Pulaski tells Riker: I’ve never heard of a Klingon starving to death on his own vessel, but you might.

Klingon Gagh

That’s awfully early in the Star Trek TV reboot — a season 2 episode of The Next Generation called “A Matter of Honor.” And as the show progresses, and as we get into Deep Space Nine territory where the Klingons are central characters rather than side-show stereotypes, Klingon gagh becomes less a food that’s calibrated simply for the gross-out factor of watching folks on TV eat worms, and more of a legitimate traditional foodway.

Nah! Who am I kidding? Gagh is always a punchline. Even as late as the season 5 episode of Deep Space Nine, “A Simple Investigation,” we have Major Kira complaining during an inspection of some Klingon cargo that: I was checking the contents of one of those crates — a tentacle grabbed my hand.

Gagh, Odo tells her in response. As though that simple fact should explain everything.

Klingon Gagh

At any rate, the reason that I bring this up — the reason why I have Klingon food on the brain today — is that Saturday night, as part of a fundraiser, I cooked a Star Trek feast for myself, Sarah, and seven guests. And given its iconic status, no Star Trek feast could be complete without a plate of wriggling, writhing, slimy serpent worms; without Klingon gagh.

There are some limiting factors, however, in terrestrial gagh production and consumption. First: serving a plate of live worms is absolutely, undoubtedly out of the question. It’s inhumane and horrible. And besides, if we eat the worms, who would be left to transform our kitchen scraps into compost?

The second limiting factor is that one of the guests at said Star Trek feast was a vegetarian. That means that, even barring the consumption of real-life annelids, we couldn’t have, say, long strings of beef tartar or buckwheat noodles soaked in meaty consommé. It just wasn’t going to work.

In fact, of the dozens of ideas for how to produce Klingon gagh that I found online, it seemed that none was likely to work. They were all either inappropriate, or inadequately ‘real,’ or seemed like they would not taste good.

And then, after doing a little bit of research, I hit on an idea: what about savory gummy worms?

Sarah wasn’t convinced that this was going to work. But I knew. A vegetarian broth of mushrooms and kelp, thickened to solidity with agar, would have just the right look and feel. And allowed to solidify inside of a drinking straw, it would have just the right shape, too.

My only surprise was just how well it all turned out. The ridges on the bendy straws I got for the project added just the right wormy surfacing; and using agar rather than beef gelatin gave it a kind of wet, slimy look that only added to the effect.

Linda, whose help putting together the Star Trek feast was more than invaluable, later commented on Facebook that: the Gagh hit the uncanny valley. Adam Zolkover absolutely got the jiggly wriggling worms just right!

I’ve not seen a better approach to Klingon gagh than this one. It’s not every day that you need to impress a room full of guests with something slimy from outer space. But when you do, this is the approach I’d recommend. And there’s one more important advantage to gummy gagh that I did not share with my guests: It’s actually super easy to do.

Klingon Gagh

Klingon Gagh

4 – 4.5 cups of Water
1 – 1.5 cups Dried Shitake Mushrooms
1 cup Dried Seaweed or Kombu
4 tbsp Agar Flakes
2 tbsp Tamari or Dark Soy Sauce
1 tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Star Anise Pod
8-10 Whole Peppercorns
Half a Stick of Cinnamon

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the water, mushrooms, seaweed, tomato paste, star anise, cinnamon, and peppercorns to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, and allow it to cook at a high simmer for about a half hour.

Using a fine mesh seive, strain the liquid out into a bowl. Remove any particulate matter from the saucepan. Measure out a scant two cups of the broth (you may actually need to add a little bit of water to get it to that level), and return it to the saucepan along with the tamari and the agar. Cook over low-medium heat for a minute or two until the agar disolves and the liquid starts to thicken.

Klingon Gagh

As soon as the broth thickens, remove it from the heat. fill a pint mason jar or a tall, straight-sided drinking glass with the liquid. And then, into the liquid, insert as many drinking straws as will fit. For the best results, you’ll want to insert the drinking straws bendy-side down. And you’ll want to extend the accordion bits to achieve the wormiest ridges.

When it has cooled just a little bit, move the glass of liquid and straws into the refrigerator, and allow it to chill for 4-6 hours, or overnight. You’ll know it’s done when the liquid has solidified.

Klingon Gagh

Once the broth is solid, to make the Klingon gagh, remove the straws from the jar and, using your fingers, a rolling pin, or the side of a fork, push the worms out of the straws and into a bowl.

The gagh can be eaten alone, but it is best served, I think, on a bed of Japanese-style seaweed salad, drizzled with sesame oil and sprinkled with a few sesame seeds.

Klingon Gagh

You’ll be surprised how good they taste for a thing that looks so perfectly, science-fictiony vile.