Fiddleheads! They’re everywhere right now! At the farmer’s market, on farmstands and even in grocery stores. The arrival of fiddleheads signals that summer is almost here in Maine and soon…so soon…it’ll be warm enough to swim in the lake. My swimsuit is on high alert…
I remember our very first summer in Maine and coming across these somewhat freaky looking green things at the farm stand and having no idea how to cook them. If you’re a fiddlehead first timer, here’s what you need to know:
Fiddleheads are the furled (not yet opened) fronds of a young fern, specifically the Ostrich fern (a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as iron and fibre) vs. Bracken (carcinogenic and toxic if not fully cooked!).
Back in the 1990s, raw or lightly cooked fiddleheads were implicated in a food-bourne illness outbreak and so it’s important to prepare and cook them safely.
How to cook fiddleheads:
1. Remove any residual brown papery husk
2. Wash in several changes of cold water
3. Discard any unfurled or discolored fiddleheads, they should be tightly curled and bright green
4. The official guidelines say to boil them for 15 minutes. I’m not a fan of mushy fiddleheads so I usually boil them for ~8 minutes but you should use your own judgement here in terms of risk vs. taste.
Fiddleheads have a similar texture to asparagus but without the funky asparagus taste. My favorite way to enjoy fiddleheads is to boil them and then lightly saute in a little butter with a very generous squeeze of lemon juice and pair with salty prosciutto.
Fiddleheads in Lemon Butter with Prosciutto
1/2lb of fiddleheads
1 tbsp butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
6 wafer thin slices of prosciutto (~2-3oz)
Sea salt and pepper
1. Remove any brown paper husk from the fiddleheads and discard any discoloured or unfurled ferns
2. Place a pan of water on to boil. Wash the fiddleheads with multiple rinses of cold running water
3. Add the fiddleheads to the boiling water. Boil for 15 minutes (according to health authorities) or for less time at your own risk (I usually boil for ~8 minutes but I’m not advocating this risky behaviour). The water will turn a weird brown color. I like to rinse the fiddleheads with fresh boiled water from the kettle.
4. Drain the fiddleheads in a colander. Rinse out the pan and return it to a medium heat. Add the butter, the drained fiddleheads, the lemon juice and lightly toss. Add a few good grinds of black pepper and a few pinches of sea salt (preferably Malden).
5. Place the fiddleheads on a warmed plate and drape a few slices of prosciutto alongside. Add an extra squeeze of lemon juice.
Have you ever cooked or eaten fiddleheads? What did you think? I’m also super excited to see ramps at the market and plan on pickling them to last through the summer!