Have you ever seen fiddleheads growing by the side of the road? Their vibrant green skin and their uniquely coiled spiral shape make them unmistakable. However, for many, putting a vegetable that resembles the scroll of a violin in your dinner sauté is just a bit strange. They are, after all, a bit weird looking and many a person has searched ‘how to cook fiddleheads’ in front of the display at the farmers market.
In reality, fresh fiddleheads are not anything particularly strange. They are just the immature, green shoots of ferns, and they don’t taste much different than asparagus. They grow in the wild and their tightly wound stalks house a burst of nutty green flavor that goes well with a variety of dishes. Fiddlehead pickles are also a popular way to use the fiddlehead ferns.
Harvested in the early spring during a short season, fern fiddleheads are typically foraged by those in the know, just like morel mushrooms. However, if you’re lucky, sometimes you can find them at the local farmers markets. If you are able to find them there, grab a handful or two.
Be aware: If you are a newcomer to the scene, some types of ferns are poisonous, so if you are out foraging, be careful. You don’t want to mistake a fiddlehead for a deadly green shoot.
Additionally, even though they are safe to eat, make sure that you cook them first. Uncooked fiddleheads have been known to cause food-borne illness (the last thing you want is diarrhea from a salad) so clean fiddleheads well.
In spite of the difficulty associated with foraging the young ferns, the patience you exert to collect yourself a handful is worth it. Aside from being a tasty springtime treat, these charming additions to your kitchen repertoire are simply beautiful. Their appearance is that of the scroll on top of a fiddle or violin – hence their name. Plus they are only available for a breath of time.
The ferns grow wildly in North America, from Ontario and Quebec in Eastern Canada, and Vermont and Maine on down to the Appalachian mountain range. Not only are they native to North America, but they are also native to Asia.
Fiddlehead greens are particularly popular in Japan and Korea where you might see bibimbap arrive to the table with fiddleheads in a place that specializes in Korean cuisine.
They pack a punch when it comes to nutrition, and are rich in fatty acids, like omega-3 fatty acids. However, it’s important to be careful as ostrich fern fiddleheads do contain a toxin unidentified as the publication of this article.
Cooking Fiddleheads Properly
Flatiron or Bavette? Tonight my wife and I tried to answer a question that I'm sure has caused a sleepless night or two for many of you… which is better? The bavette (top left) and the flatiron (lower centre) were marinated in the same marinade, cooked for the same time and tasted by the same two people… damn, we have a tie! (I knew we needed a third judge!) @heatherleafarm
Before you can enjoy these tightly wound bundles, you must wash them thoroughly first in hot water, then in cold water. Especially for these ferns, that does not mean that you should just run them under tap water.
The best way to wash fiddleheads to fill a large bowl with water and rinse them repeatedly. Once the water runs clear you can then boil these little green shoots for about 15 minutes. When they are soft, then you can use them in your dishes.
Do not eat your fiddleheads raw! In fact, boiling before sautéing is highly recommended to extract the optimal texture. Here are four recipes to try out with bracken fiddleheads.
1. Fried Fiddleheads
The gateway to making any unfamiliar food delicious is to fry it. So if you’ve never had a fiddlehead, try them first when they’re golden brown and crispy. Then dip them in ketchup, aioli, ranch, hollandaise sauce, or drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
Or you can just enjoy them plain Jane-style. Get the recipe here.
2. Fiddlehead Frittata
Nutty and with plenty of texture, fiddleheads are a great addition to a frittata where they won’t get lost in the interplay of flavors.
Get the recipe here.
3. Brown Sugar Miso Fiddleheads
Because they are scarce and not the cheapest bit of produce, fiddleheads are ideal to make as an appetizer. Their expense is also a good reason not to cover up their natural flavor.
Instead, accentuate their wild taste by coating them with only a hint of sauce. Get the recipe here.
4. Lemony Fiddlehead + Mushroom Linguini
Add some interest to a comforting pasta dish with fiddleheads. You’ll suddenly feel like you’re dining at a first class Italian restaurant.
Get the recipe here.