Springtime brings out perennial vegetables such as rhubarb and asparagus. The woods provide similar treats in the tender shoots of ferns called fiddleheads.
In New England, it is particularly the Ostrich fern which is picked. You want to pick them as they are emerging and tightly coiled. The texture will be nice and tender with a mild, slightly nutty flavor. I would compare the taste to a mix of tender green beans and mild artichokes.
Fiddleheads are nutrient rich containing antioxidants, protein, iron, fiber, vitamin C, niacin, potassium as well as omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
The shoots generally emerge towards the end of April and early May depending on the weather. Once you get a warm spell, they will bolt quickly and be useless for cooking.
When picking them, you want to snap them tightly coiled with little or no stem. Upon returning home, clean off any brown, papery sheath that remains stuck to the stem. It is best to wash the ferns just before cooking them as they keep better dry.
To prepare them for cooking, wash them thoroughly a couple of times to rinse off any remaining sheath and blanch them in lightly salted water.
Place them in boiling water and let it return to a boil, cooking them for about one minute.
Drain in a colander and quickly rinse with cold water to chill them. Drain well and they are now ready for preparation.
They can be prepared as a vegetable in the same manner as green beans or asparagus: steamed with garlic and olive oil, sautéed with lemon butter, or steamed with hollandaise sauce.
One of my favorite ways to serve fiddleheads is a warm fiddlehead salad which has been very popular in my restaurants in the past.
Warm fiddlehead salad with cognac vinaigrette
1 lb fiddlehead ferns cleaned and blanched (as described above)
¼ cup of pecans
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs finely diced shallots
1 Tbs capers
1 medium tomato diced ¼ – ½ inch pieces
4 thin slices of red onion
2 Tbs cognac
2 Tbs red vinegar
2 Tbs cold butter in slices
1 tsp Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt the first 2 Tbs butter in a sauté pan. Add the pecans and toast them in the butter taking care not to burn them.
- Add the shallots and mix in for a few seconds followed by the fiddleheads and capers.
- Over high heat, quickly warm the dish and carefully add the cognac and vinegar. Cook for about a minute and swirl in the cold butter pieces. Next mix in the diced tomato.
- Season with salt and pepper, plate, and garnish with a few onion slices.