While researching fresh spring vegetables, you most likely recognize the usual suspects. Asparagus, arugula, artichokes, and peas just to name a few. But what about fiddlehead ferns. You may have read about them, but have you ever tried them? Fiddlehead ferns are forged and not grown just like another popular spring vegetable, ramps. And just like ramps, they can be really hard to find in the grocery store. I have been hearing more and more about fiddlehead ferns in recent years, but I have never been able to find them. Then while shopping for a client in Whole Foods the other day, there they were. How could I pass up the chance to finally cook and try them.
This spring vegetable comes from the tops of, you guessed, ferns. You may have seen these curly tops on
your hikes through the woods and never thought about eating them. While it may be fun to forge for them, you should know that not all fern heads are safe to eat. You need to pick them from the correct variety of fern. The ostrich fern is the one that most fiddleheads come from. If you decide to forge your own, but don't know the difference between ferns, bring someone with you that is experienced. Or just head to your store or farmers market and forge them from there.
You should look for fern heads that are still tightly coiled and you should plan to use them in the first couple of days that you have them. If you buy your ferns from the store, you don't need to do much to prep them. I would just give them a good rinse. If you forge for your ferns you will need to rub off the brown papery outside to reveal the bright green insides.
You do not want to eat fiddlehead ferns raw. There are a couple of ways to cook them, but general consensus is to either steam or blanch them, then sautee them. They have a flavor somewhere in between asparagus and green beans, but they will also take on the flavor of whatever you cook them in. You can enjoy them sauteed with lemon, butter and garlic or add them to a risotto or throw them in a salad. I decided to blanch mine then sautee them in brown butter and lemon.
Step 1: Blanching
Blanching your fiddleheads will help them keep their bright green color through the cooking process. I just filled my sautee pan with salted water, brought it up to a boil, then added in my ferns for about 5 minutes. This was just enough to get them tender. You don't want to overcook them and end up with a mushy fern head. Drain the ferns and return the empty pan to a medium heat.
Step 2: Sauteing
If you want to use brown butter like I did, put a couple of tablespoons of butter into the hot skillet and let it slowly brown. You will know it is ready when it has a light brown color and smells a little nutty. You don't want to let it go to far or it will burn. Now add in your fiddleheads, season them will salt and pepper, then squeeze the juice from half a lemon on them. Let them sautee for about 3-5 minutes. Just until they are tender enough for you to enjoy. At this point you could still throw them in with some pasta or risotto, but I just ate them as a side vegetable since I'd never had them before.
It's fun to try new vegetables at home, especially when you have been hearing so much about them. Don't pass up a chance to try something new when you see it at a grocery store or farmer's market. Pick it up and you will always find a way to use it. The internet makes sure of that.