© Denzil Green
A Fiddlehead is the top of a fern when it first pokes through the ground in spring, curled up like the head of a fiddle. They are only available for 3 weeks in May. They are still mostly gathered from the wild, though commercial production is being explored.
They taste something like asparagus and spinach.
The most popular fern to harvest them from, and the one that is deemed the safest, is the Ostrich Fern. (see Nutrition below.) Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads will have on them brown, damp "chaff" that feels papery or "fuzz" that feels like down.
Fiddleheads are very popular throughout Asia and the Pacific, particularly in Japan and in Korea, and popular in eastern parts of North America. In Asia they are cooked; in Hawaii, just parboiled.
When buying fresh Fiddleheads, choose luminous, bright green ones that are small -- no more than 2 inches across and 2 inches tall (5 cm x 5 cm) including the stalk.
Fiddleheads can also be bought canned.
Fresh, they only have a shelf life of about 3 days.
Trim stalks to 1/4 inch (1/2 cm). Rub any scales or brown fuzz off, and rinse.
Bring salted water to a boil, add Fiddleheads, boil for 5 minutes, or steam for 8 to 10 minutes. They really do need the full cooking times to bring the flavour out.
Drain and serve. Garnish with lemon, butter or a vinaigrette.
If you are planning to sauté or otherwise cook them, steam or boil them first, to leach any toxins present in them out.
Some experts advise not to eat any Fiddleheads at all.
Health Canada advises to discard any steaming or simmering water that you cooked Fiddleheads in, as toxins may have leeched into the water. To make sure toxins have leeched out, they advise a longer cooking time, of 15 minutes for boiling, and 10 to 12 minutes for steaming.
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-- Jane Grigson (English food writer. 13 March 1928 - 12 March 1990)