They’ll be gone before you know it, so act quickly to cook up the ultimate taste of spring for your operation. It will soon be the season for fiddlehead ferns, which earned their name because of their resemblance to the curved handle of a violin or fiddle.
This forage-sourced green is only around for a couple weeks in the early spring, so it’s worth making room in your special rotation for them. What do they taste like? Many people say they simply taste like spring, but other flavor descriptors include green beans, asparagus, spinach and artichoke. There are often nutty or mushroom-y notes, as well.
What to look for
Make sure you’re working with an experienced forager who is providing you with ostrich fern fiddleheads, which are safe to eat. You’ll want them as freshly harvested as possible, and they should arrive in your kitchen bright green in color, with tightly coiled tops and just an inch or two of stem.
Prep tips from the pros
Remove any brown papery covering and rinse them several times in cold water. Food experts say you must cook them and never eat them raw. But be careful with your cook times and prepping methods. According to Alan Bergo, the Forager Chef, overcooking is a common problem. When they’re overcooked, “they’re soggy, limp and disgusting,” he says. He advises keeping close eye on the heat source to ensure you “cook your fiddles, but don’t murder them.”
That said, feel free to experiment with whatever cooking method works best in your kitchen, because fiddleheads can taste great whether they’re boiled, sautéed or steamed. They work well as a side dish, as a garnish for a protein entrée or as an addition to pasta and risotto. They’re also terrific as part of your in-house pickling program (see recipes below), which can help you extend their presence on your menu well into spring.
Shota Nakajima, chef and owner at Seattle’s Adana, has said that his favorite cooking method for fiddleheads is to blanch them lightly, shock them in ice water, marinate them in a savory dashi (umami-rich broth) and serve them cold. “The nice crunch, the light slime from the inside and that springy flavor is to die for,” he told Food & Wine magazine.