Fiddlehead ferns are a sure sign of spring in my adopted Vermont home - ambitious foragers head out into the woods to find the perfect spot to harvest them, then they sell them to local grocery stores and farm stands where those of us coming out of winter hibernation flock to the promise of something fresh and green.
A fiddlehead is basically a still-curled frond of certain types of ferns. If left to its own devices it would open up and grow like any other fern, but if captured in its youth can be eaten and enjoyed by those of us who are craving vitamin green. They taste a bit like broccoli to me, but also like asparagus, but also not quite like either one.
Fiddleheads are easy to prepare but they can look confusing to someone who has never enjoyed them before. Here are the simple steps we use to prepare fiddleheads in a simple way that allows them to express their own flavor as much as anything you might add to them.
1 Clean the Fiddleheads Those little tightly wrapped fronds can capture a lot of dirt and soil and also tend to release strands when they are cooked. I take a two step cleaning process before I start cooking them - first, I rinse them a few times through running water, then I soak them in a bowl of water for at least 10 minutes before rinsing again. You can also choose to cut off any ends that have browned or are very long.
This gets them relatively clean, but you also need step 2...
2 Simmer the Fiddleheads Place the fiddleheads in a pot of water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 5-7 minutes. This step not only gets the fiddleheads a bit softened but also serves to filter out a bunch more dirt (you literally get a pan full of brown water when you're done) so its also one more step in the cleaning process.
3 Saute the Fiddleheads Drain the fiddleheads or scoop them out of the water. Heat a slug of olive oil in a frying pan on medium high heat, add some onions, shallots, or garlic (or any combination of those) to the pan and cook until softened. Add the shallots and cook for 5 more minutes until both the onions and the fiddleheads are soft and starting to brown (keep them al dente though, you don't want mushy fiddleheads).
Voila - serve for dinner!