What is it about fiddleheads that attracts so much excitement? On their own, they’re a fine vegetable, with a flavor that hangs somewhere between green beans and asparagus. Is it the novelty of eating ostrich ferns, in their coiled, newly-hatched form? I think it’s partly their striking appearance, which indeed resembles the neck of a fiddle. And, most importantly, they’re one of the first local edibles, a sure sign that spring has truly sprung.
And the good news is that they’re best served simply, sautéed with a bit of butter and an allium, such as garlic, shallots, or minced onion. Here’s a favorite fiddleheads recipe that’s both easy and flavorful.
When buying fiddleheads, look for fresh, bright green, tightly coiled plants. Browning is a sure sign of age, so avoid ones that look like this.
To prepare them for cooking, wash about 1 1/4 pounds of fiddleheads in cold water and rub away any papery “scales,” then trim the ends. Because the plants are wild, it’s wise to make sure they’re thoroughly cooked before serving, to avoid the possibility of food-borne illness. So the best method is to boil them in salted water for about 10 minutes, then sauté.
While the fiddleheads are boiling, I like to brown some butter in a skillet. I like the nutty flavor that browning imparts, and the method couldn’t be simpler: Simply melt 3 tablespoons over medium-heat and let it cook until the milk solids in the butter turn a nice chestnut brown color.
For oniony flavor, I like to add another wild spring edible: ramps, also known as wild leeks. The finely chopped stems from 5 plants is sufficient (the leaves have a more vegetal flavor, so I leave those out).
Sauté the ramp stems for 4 to 5 minutes in the browned butter.
Drain the cooked fiddleheads and add them to the skillet with the butter and ramps. Sauté for 3 or 4 minutes to blend the flavors, then serve.
To turn this side dish fiddleheads recipe into a full meal, you can sauté 2 chopped portobello mushrooms in 3 tablespoons olive oil over high heat until they begin to caramelize.
Add the cooked fiddleheads to these mushrooms and stir in the zest of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons of sour cream or crème fraîche. Top with a piece of roasted salmon and you have dinner.
Do you have a favorite fiddleheads recipe?
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.