What The Heck Is A Fiddlehead Fern?

A quick education on this gourmet wild vegetable.

Description: The stunningly shaped fiddlehead fern is named for just that: its semblance to the head of a fiddle. But while no musical sounds actually emanate from this gourmet wild vegetable, there may come some tuneful chirps from the salivating mouths of foodies at the sight of this rare delicacy. Fiddleheads come but once a year, as the harvesting time is only a few weeks, and can be found at certain farmers’ markets in late April through early June. These green edible fronds of the ostrich fern are distinct in shape, having a green, quarter-sized coil at the end of a 4- to 6-inch stalk. They grow wild in shady river bottoms in the marshes, swamps, and forests of North America and were once part of the traditional diet of some Native American tribes.

Flavor Profile: Replete with mild springtime grassy notes, plus a hint of nuttiness, fiddleheads have a similar taste to asparagus or young spinach. Some suggest artichoke or a bit of mushroom.

To Prep: To remove any bitterness, wash ferns well, then blanch in boiling salted water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and refresh in an ice-water bath; drain again and reserve.

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To Cook: Trim the stems, rinse well and then sauté for about 10 minutes with butter, shallots, and maybe a little pancetta. Make sure to boil per “To Prep” step above prior to sautéing.

A Raw Deal: Unlike so many other vegetables, fiddleheads should not be eaten raw. They must be cooked, as there have been cases of food-borne illness associated with eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads.

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