Fiddlehead Ferns — wait, are you looking at the screen with your head cocked to one side and a quizzical look in your eyes?. Let me start by saying, I had never even heard of a fiddlehead fern until Memorial Day weekend of 2010. EAD and JFB were in town and we stopped off at a new restaurant who had fiddleheads on the menu. JFB nearly wet himself. MS was quite excited too – mostly because he liked the name.
What is a fiddlehead fern you ask? It is the tightly coiled new (furled) frond on a fern (this post is full of tongue twisters, isn’t it?) that is harvested for food. If the frond is left to unfurl it will become a new regular looking leaf/frond on the plant. When harvested they are a delicious addition to your spring/summer dinner plate.
In Chicago we can find these at higher end grocery stores (think Whole Foods and Treasure Island). Traditionally you just cook them like a green bean (drop them into a pot of boiling water for 1 minute, remove and plunge into an ice bath). Once the ferns are blanched you can saute them in butter and oil (yes please) maybe with a little garlic and call it good. I’m a firm believer in not over complicating a recipe or a core ingredient – if the food is fresh you should keep it as simple as possible, otherwise you run the risk of ruining the foundation ingredient. Who hasn’t had some mangled piece of fish or shrimp and thought that if they wouldn’t have covered it in an overly complex sauce or cooked it twice it would have been much better.
Go to your store and find some fiddlehead ferns for dinner tonight. Like almost everything we eat, there are some guidelines – wash these things thoroughly. You can harvest these yourselves too, but be cautious – some ferns are toxic — if you haven’t foraged for ferns before, don’t do it. We don’t want you to turn out like these people, do you?