Fiddleheads

Recognize those? Those are fiddleheads, in the wild. Along with

Those are fiddleheads, in the wild. Along with ramps/wild leeks, fiddleheads  – also referred to as “fiddlehead ferns” – mark the start of spring and have a very short edible season.

Fiddleheads are the unfurled frond of the ostrich fern. They're so-called because they resemble the curled ornamentation (scroll) on the head (end) of a fiddle. Fiddle head.

Fiddleheads are harvested for use as a vegetable. They're valued because they're beautiful, they have a delicate flavour and because of their brief availability. The psychology of “scarcity” drives people to them – the idea of “It's spring! Fiddleheads are here! Better eat them before they're gone!” Unlike other vegetables, you can't really eat imports because they're so delicate. Fiddleheads are also a score if you can find them while foraging. You must find them before they unfurl. Once they unfurl it's too late.

How do fiddleheads taste?

There's an article I came across on Yahoo that states it well: “Their flavour is often compared to that of asparagus, but any fiddlehead fan will tell you it's so much more than that — think grassy, earthy and delicately sweet. In other words, the embodiment of spring.” – Emphasis mine.

Jason – my significant other – loves fiddleheads so much. They're his favourite vegetable. I have seen him in past years do a happy dance upon finding them in a grocery store. Jason, who's a career BBQ pitmaster. Jason, who owns several shirts with sayings about bacon on them – seriously, I put four away this morning after doing laundry. Happy dance for fiddleheads. They're special. (So is he, some say.)

How to select fiddleheads

In the grocery store or at a farmers' market, Look for bright green ferns. Avoid the brown ones. If you're foraging them yourself, cut above the soil.

How to prepare fiddleheads

Place fiddleheads in a large bowl of cold water and carefully rub away their papery brown husks. With a small knife, trim away the ends. Drain and rinse several more times in fresh cold water until the water is completely clear.

Fiddleheads

Storing fiddleheads

  • Wrap clean fiddlehead ferns in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
  • Alternatively, you can keep them in a bowl of ice cold water in the fridge for up to two weeks, but change the water every couple of days. If any go brown or slimy, throw them out.
  • Freeze them: Blanch them by submerging them in boiling water for two minutes. Shock them in ice water (or very cold running water) until they chill down. Drain them and dry well. Lay them on baking trays – giving some space between each one – to freeze, and then transfer to  airtight containers or bags to keep frozen for up to a year.

Cooking fiddleheads

This is important:Always cook your fiddleheads.

Raw fiddleheads might be toxic. I've read and heard conflicting information about whether or not raw fiddleheads are always toxic, but considering that the shape of the furled fern makes it easy for them to harbor nasty, toxic microbes, I think it's best to stick with safe handling and cooking. Furthermore, there is some evidence that certain varieties of fiddleheads are carcinogenic. It might be nothing, but it might be something, and better safe than sorry.  If you're poisoned by fiddleheads, you'll have the same symptoms as any other food poisoning. Symptoms might include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and headaches. Cook your fiddleheads.

Two simple ways to cook fiddleheads

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook fiddlehead ferns in the boiling water until barely tender. I've read to cook them for 7 -10 minutes and I've read 15 minutes. You own a fork. Stand by your pot, set a timer in case you get distracted and lost in whatever you're doing on your mobile device, and then stick a fork in them to see if they're done. Don't overcook them because they're less enjoyable that way.
  2. Or steam them for 10-12 minues, or until your fork tells you they're done.

You can then stir fry or sautee. Like many vegetables, simply sauteeing them in olive oil over medium-high heat with garlic salt and pepper works.  A squeeze of lemon before seving is nice too. Maybe some parmesan.

That all said, Jason swears by using the microwave. He doesn't use the microwave for much else. At the restaurant, where he doesn't have a microwave, he steams and sautees them.

On this week's “ramped up menu” he's got fiddleheads cooked up with garlic. Yesterday I saw him serve them as part of a tasting menu in a bowl layered with the fiddleheads on the bottom, followed by a falafel ball, then smoked duck with half of one of his pulled pork and kimchi egg rolls with tahini on the side. I didn't taste it, but it was beautiful and the diners were happy. If you're in Toronto, head over to Kitchen By Pork Ninjas at Wenona Lodge, 1069 Bloor St. W. [Update: The ramp & fiddlehead menu is finished, but go visit anyway.]

You could also toss them into a frittata or omelette, add to pasta, or throw them on pizza. It's up to you. Let Google – or YouTube – be your guide.

Health benefits of fiddleheads

You knew this was coming. I wouldn't be me otherwise.

  • Vitamin A: 100 grams contains 120% of the recommended daily requirements of vitamin A.
  • Vitamin C: 100 grams of fiddleheads contains 44% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C.
  • Fiddleheads are a good vegetarian source of omega 3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation. As I mentioned in yesterday's post about ramps/wild leeks, inflammation is the root of several diseases,  including heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, some mental disorders and autoimmune disorders. Omega 3 fatty acids also promote heart heath and supports brain health. Your body needs fat and it needs the right fats.
  • Fiddleheads also contain minerals such as iron and phosphorous.
  • Fiddleheads contain over 30% of your daily requirement of niacin. Niacin raises HDL cholesterol and assists in lowering LDL cholesterol to prevent arterial build up and improve circulation.
  • Fiddleheads have twice as many antioxidants as blueberries, and are loaded with fibre — seven grams per half-cup serving — which helps to fill you up and stave off hunger for longer.

References and further reading: