Also called ostrich fern, these young, unfurled fern shoots are a welcome sign of spring. This concise guide on how to use fiddlehead fern has great tips on buying, prep, and cooking, plus ideas and links to recipes.
Gathered when still curled and only about 4 to 6 inches high, these bright green spirals are only available for a short time each year. Their name is derived from their resemblance to the spiral end of violins.
The following information and tips are adapted from Melissa’s Great Book of Produce by Cathy Thomas, reprinted with permission of Melissa’s Produce.
They grow on the East Coast of North America, from Canada to Virginia. Once they mature and uncoil, they are inedible. Although there are thousands of fern varieties, only a handful produce edible shoots.
What does fiddlehead fern taste like?
Briefly cooked, fiddlehead ferns have an appealing crunch similar to undercooked French green beans (haricots vert0 or asparagus. The flavor is a cross between asparagus, green beans, and mushrooms. It’s often described as “earthy.”
How to buy and store fiddlehead fern
Look for bright green coils that are tightly closed with only 1 to 2 inches of stem beyond the unfurled portion. Avoid those with blackened scales.
To store, wrap unwashed in plastic and refrigerate. They’re best used within 3 days.
Domestically in the U.S., fiddlehead fern is available March – May or June. Look for them in early season farm markets or order online from sources like Melissa’s produce during their brief season.
Prepping and cooking fiddlehead fern
First of all, never eat fiddleheads raw! They may contain a bacteria that’s mitigated with good cleaning and light cooking.
Just before using, rub coils between your palms to remove any brown scales. Wash in several changes of cold water, then drain. If more than 2 inches of stem remains beyond the coil, trim it away.
Fiddlehead ferns are best eaten lightly cooked in one of several ways. Blanch for 3 to 4 minutes, then drain and refresh with cold water. Or, you can steam, stir-fry, or sauté them until just barely tender-crisp. Quick cooking produces crisp, bright green coils that are the most appealing.
Fiddlehead ferns have plentiful amounts of Vitamin C and potassium. They also contain a surprisingly good amount of protein. See their complete nutrition profile here.
Fiddlehead fern recipes and ideas
Soup garnish: Use lightly steamed or sautéed as a garnish for pureed soups such as asparagus, fennel, or green pea soup.
Composed salad: Arrange lightly cooked fiddleheads with an assortment of steamed vegetables on salad plates. Some vegetables that team well include asparagus, artichoke hearts, and green beans. Dress with a vinaigrette. This composition is lovely embellished with chopped fresh or dried tarragon, if available. Garnish with a little finely diced sweet or red onion.
Fiddleheads with pasta: Toss warm pasta with lightly cooked fiddlehead ferns. Add extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.
Simple sauté: Sometimes simple is best, as in this basic sauté.
Spring stir-fry: Ramps are added to a simple Fiddlehead Stir-Fry for a simple spring side dish.
Mixed sauté: In a large deep skillet, cook 1 chopped onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil on medium-high heat until softened. Add 8 ounces of fresh cremini mushrooms, 2 garlic cloves, and a little fresh thyme if available. Cook until the mushroom soften. Add 1 pound of fiddlehead ferns and continue to cook until they’re tender-crisp. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.
Roasted fiddleheads: Prep as directed in the section on prepping and roasting; toss about a pound of fiddleheads with a little olive oil and spread on a parchment-lined baking pan. Roast at 425º F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly touched with brown spots; stir about halfway through. Season with salt and pepper.
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Melissa’s Great Book of Produce by Cathy Thomas
is available wherever books are sold