Spring Delicacy: Fiddlehead Ferns

What do I do with Fiddlehead Ferns?

raw-fresh-fiddlehead-fernsYou’ve probably heard of Fiddlehead Ferns—these strange looking, green quarter-sized, coiled vegetables are the unfurled new leaves of a fern that resemble the shape of a fiddle. These young, wild edibles-turn-gourmet-veggie can be found across much of North America in the mid to late springtime.

Fiddleheads are ferns before they become ferns. They are the furled up stage of a fern when they just start to shoot through the ground in spring. As they emerge through the fertile, wet spring soil, they grow and unfurl quickly, sometimes lasting just a few days in their furled up stage. Don’t blink! Because before you can say “fiddleheads” they’re gone!

Though all ferns have a fiddlehead stage, it’s the Ostrich fern, a specific edible species, that has become synonymous with the word “fiddlehead.” Their taste is often described somewhere between asparagus, broccoli and spinach. Sometimes found at farmer’s markets, most people must forage in nature, in secret, well-guarded locations spending hours carefully examining local foliage (picking the wrong plant can be dangerous!) and then spending hours harvesting enough to make the efforts worth it.

We’ve saved you the trouble of hunting them up! For a limited time, we’ve got Fiddlehead Ferns delivered fresh to your doorstep. Now what to do with them?

How to Prepare Fiddlehead Ferns

fiddleheads-in-paper-bagFirst things first, your fiddleheads should be cleaned. If you find they have a brown chaff clinging to them, a good shake can take care of that. Place your (dry) fiddleheads in a paper bag and shake them vigorously for a brief moment. When you peek in the bag you should find that most of the brown papery flakes are now in the bottom of the bag and the fiddleheads are significantly cleaner. Lightly rub or brush the dry fiddleheads, to remove as much of the brown papery flakes as possible then finish by washing anything that remains off in cold running water. Rinse in a colander, pat dry.

How to Cook Fiddlehead Ferns

What to do with these spring delicacies? First, make sure you do cook them! You can get sick if you eat them raw or don’t cook them long enough. Raw fiddleheads contain thiaminase which is a vitamin B depleting enzyme. Heat destroys this enzyme and makes them safe to eat. There are a wide range of ways in which to cook and enjoy these wild edibles.

  • They can be eaten steamed, boiled, in soups, sautéed or stir-fried, fried or baked.
  • Use fiddleheads like you use any vegetable. They work beautifully with egg dishes like omelettes and frittatas, go great with pasta dishes, soups and stir fries but also work alone as a side dish to accompany meats and fish.
  • A classic way to cook and serve them is sautéed with just some butter or oil and seasoning. This is a great way to try them for the first time.
  • Try them tossed with crisped, crumbled bacon and sauteed garlic and wild mushrooms.
  • They are also great on pizza, in scrambles, spaghetti sauce and casseroles.

Basic Cooked Fiddleheads

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add fiddleheads. Boil 5-7 minutes.
    • Blanching ensures that the fiddleheads cook evenly. This would be more difficult, though not impossible, if they are added directly to the sauté.
    • Blanching helps to avoid overcooking. You can keep a close eye on them so that they don’t turn to mush.
    • If the fiddleheads are slightly bitter, the water will draw out the bitterness – you leave it behind in the cooking pot.
  • Drain, lightly pat dry.
  • Heat butter in a skillet on medium-high. When butter is melted, add fiddleheads. Saute til all sides are lightly browned.
  • Or, heat olive oil and minced garlic in a skillet on medium heat. Add fiddleheads. Saute til all sides are lightly browned.

sauteed-fiddlehead-fernsEat ’em!
• Enjoy sautéed fiddleheads as a side.
• Use sautéed fiddleheads in omelettes and frittatas.
• Top pizza.
• Serve as a side dish-sauteed leeks and fresh spinach—these sautés, incorporating rich flavors, will compliment the fiddleheads by contrasting their assertive woodsy green taste.
• Toss with pasta.

Wild Fiddlehead Fern and Mushroom Sauté

serves 2
2 oz. extra virgin olive oil
half a small onion, chopped
2-3 strips of bacon (optional)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
6-8 oz. assorted fresh mushrooms, cleaned and cut to desired size
1 Tbsp. butter, if desired
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
a small handful of fiddlehead ferns (about 20 pieces)

Bring a small pot of water to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a skillet set over a medium flame, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, and bacon if using, and cook, stirring often, until the bacon has rendered its fat and is beginning to brown, and the onions are softened and golden. Stir in the garlic. Cook for another minute and add the butter if using. Add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are fully cooked. Season all with salt and pepper.

When the mushroom and onion mixture is nearly ready, season the boiling water with salt. Add the fiddlehead ferns to the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until they are tender. Remove the fiddleheads with a strainer or slotted spoon and add them to the mushroom sauté. Toss together, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Fiddleheads are best to use soon after procuring, but they will last in your fridge for at least a week. They freeze well, if you’re of a mind. Or, try pickling them!

Freezing Fiddleheads

single-layer-fiddlehead-fernsFiddleheads freeze well if you would like to set aside a bag or two to enjoy during winter. Blanch them for two minutes in small groups in 4-6 cups of water at a time—transfer immediately to and ice bath until cool. Dry the fiddleheads. Lay fiddleheads in a single sheet on a baking pan. Stick them in the freezer overnight. Remove frozen fiddleheads and place in a storage bag or container. When you thaw them just remember, you still should cook them before eating them.

Crunchy, Refrigerator-Pickled Fiddleheads

Pickled fiddleheads make a great snack and a unique gift to friends.

1 lb fiddlehead ferns, rinsed and trimmed
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
2 cups white wine vinegar (substitute cider or rice wine vinegar)
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
2 star anise
1 tsp Rainbow Peppercorn blend
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp crushed chile peppers
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
¼ cup sugar, Demerara or Turbinado
1 bay leaf
1 cup water

Rinse the fiddleheads under cold running water and trim the broken ends with a sharp knife.

Heat a large pot of salted water (about 1 Tbsp per quart) to boiling. Blanch the fiddleheads in the boiling water for about 30 seconds, then drain immediately and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain again thoroughly and place into a large non-reactive heatproof bowl.

Peel and thinly slice the shallot into rings and toss into the bowl with the fiddleheads.

In a large, non-reactive pot, heat the remaining ingredients to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour the hot vinegar/spice mixture over the fiddleheads. Allow to stand until cooled to room temperature. Cover tightly or ladle into jars and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Feeling inspired now? Share your thoughts on Fiddlehead Ferns below!

About Anna K Amendolare

Anna, of aka design, is a web designer and digital marketer. She contributes recipes via homeharv.wordpress.com, manages all of the email marketing for HH, and serves as webmaster for Hometown Harvest. When she is not in front of her computer, she enjoys baking, craft beer, and spinning & cycling to burn off those calories.

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