The smell of freshly mown grass, the spark and sizzle of the barbecue lighting up, and the sight of fresh wash hung out on the line: they’re all clear signs that spring is here, and the lazy days of summer are slowly sauntering towards us.
Another one of my favourite signs of the seasonal shift is actually found in the produce section of the grocery store. I immediately notice that the overall quality of produce is improving, as the weather warms, but I’m also always keeping an eye out for one key ingredient: fiddleheads.
As soon as I see those delicate little whorls of green pop up on store shelves, or restaurant menus, I begin to mentally slip on a pair of sandals.
Now, I’ve eaten fiddleheads prepared at restaurants before, but never attempted to make them at home. When I spied them for sale at Dave’s Fruit & Vegetable Market yesterday for $4.99/lb, I decided to try my hand at the dish.
For those of you who have never heard of fiddleheads before, or maybe just tossed them a puzzled glance at the grocery store, a bit of background, courtesy of Wikipedia (of course):
Fiddleheads are actually just the furled fronds of a young fern, which are harvested to be eaten as a vegetable. If you left them on the plant, each fiddlehead would eventually unfurl into a front. ‘Fer real.
Because fiddleheads are harvested early in the season, before the frond has opened and reached its full height, they are cut fairly close to the ground.
Not only are they delicious (if prepared well), fiddleheads are a source of antioxidants, Omega 3 and 6, and are high in iron and fibre. The downside? Certain varieties (not the ones typically found in North America) are carcinogenic. Bummer.
Fiddleheads have been eaten in Northern France since the beginning of the Middle Ages, and in Asian and Native American cultures for centuries. They’re also a traditional dish of northern New England, Quebec, and the Maritimes! (little known fact gleaned from Wikipedia: the community of Tide Head, New Brunswick is the “Fiddlehead Capital of the World”).
Well, now that we’ve gotten the history lesson out of the way, let’s get to the important part: eating them!
First, you have to wash them really well, and then boil them for up to 15 minutes (I think that’s too long, personally, but it’s up to you). In the early ’90s, The Centres for Disease Control associated a number of food-borne illness cases with fiddleheads, and though they didn’t actually identify a toxin in the fiddleheads, their findings suggested that fiddleheads should be cooked thoroughly before eating. Health authorities recommend cooking them for 15 minutes if boiled and 10 to 12 minutes if steamed.
I washed mine thoroughly, trimmed the stems with a paring knife, and boiled them for 9 minutes (the boiling process not only cleans and cooks the greens, but reduces bitterness, tannins and toxins). I drained them, and sauteed them in a frying pan with about 1 tablespoon of butter, three cloves of fresh garlic and pepper. Next time, I think I’d also add a splash of lemon, to add a bit of acidity to the dish!
I took a first tentative bite: they were perfectly cooked, not mushy, and also not crisp or bitter. Yay! Fiddleheads definitely have a distinct, but not unpleasant, taste. I served them with a maple-glazed, barbecued pork roast, and roasted new potatoes, onions and carrots, all prepared on the grill! (Have I mentioned how much I love to cook in the summer?!)
My one mistake? I didn’t buy enough. I found myself wishing I’d scooped up more fiddleheads, but I hadn’t wanted to invest in an enormous bag, in case it turned out that I couldn’t cook them very well…
I think I’ll be making another trip back to Dave’s to enjoy this seasonal treat before they unfurl into fronds.