Friday, May 25, 2012

Fiddlehead Ferns

by Sheila Connolly

We seem to be on a vegetable streak here at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. Whatever I was going to write about this week went flying out of my head when I spotted a package of fiddlehead ferns at my local market.

I bet a lot of you are now scratching your heads and saying, she's gone flipping crazy and is chewing on the foliage.  Not so, I assure you.

Fiddlehead ferns unfurl themselves in spring in New England, and they have an exceedingly short life (they keep unrolling until they become ferns, and then they aren't as edible unless you really are into foliage).  You have a window of about two weeks to find and enjoy them.

I first encountered them during an indulgent luncheon with my husband at the famed French restaurant Lutèce in New York, alas now closed (since 2004).  Then there was a long spell with no sightings, until they appeared as if by magic in our market one year and I seized upon them, and have kept my eye open for them ever since.

Since they are available for such a short time, there is a dearth of recipes available for them.  What is more peculiar is that among many of the online recipes, the authors drown their fiddleheads in overwhelming flavors, like horseradish or mustard.  Fiddleheads are shy and retiring little creatures, similar in flavor to asparagus, so what's the point?

A pound of fiddleheads, cleaned

The best solution is to prepare them simply.  First cut off any brown parts of the stem and remove any brown bits of leaf, then cook. There are a couple of options:

1.  Steaming:  In a steamer set over boiling water, steam a pound of fiddleheads for about five minutes, until they are just tender.  Drain off the water, add butter and salt, and enjoy, unadorned, as a side dish.

After steaming (don't overcook!)

2. Sauteing:  Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the fiddleheads, toss to coat with butter, then cover and cook gently until they are just tender. 

An alternative is to sauté finely chopped shallots in the butter first, then add the fern heads, or if you want something slightly stronger, minced garlic. You may also want to try a mild-flavored olive oil.

No matter how you prepare them, enjoy this fleeting flavor of spring!  Now, if I could just find someone who sells garlic scapes (the curly ends of hardneck garlic, which are usually cut off and thrown away) again…or ramps (another early spring vegetable, also called a wild leek, that has a mild onion-garlic flavor)…

Garlic scapes


  1. I knew what these were! But only because I was watching Chopped ;)

  2. There's a great Chihuly glass exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum, and he has a beautiful installation that looks like fiddlehead ferns ... wide blades of green ending in a lovely little spiral. So pretty. I wish they were available here to eat!

  3. Sheila, you're such an adventurous eater. I have never had the pleasure of trying fiddlehead ferns, but you bet I'll be on the lookout for them now.

    ~ Krista

  4. Sheila, you're such an adventurous eater. I have never had the pleasure of trying fiddlehead ferns, but you bet I'll be on the lookout for them now.

    ~ Krista

  5. We have lots of ferns here on our acreage---but I think they are so pretty at the early fiddlehead stage in early spring that I never want to cut and eat them.

  6. We have some handsome ferns, but I think they're the wrong kind (they look different when they're coming up). I'd be afraid to try random ones.

    They were still in the store this week--I may try for a vinaigrette or some kind of quick pickle recipe.

  7. Garlic Scapes are sold by Two Sisters Garlic in Canterbury, NH...I think you can order online....Dee