1. They know what a fiddlehead is.
2. They have eaten one and enjoyed it.
The sudden cold snap we are having here means we might get another week or two of enjoying this once-a-year treat. Food bloggers are reporting their appearance in their CSA bounty. You can also pickle fiddleheads, but no matter how you decide to prepare them, make sure you clean them well.
I tried fiddleheads last year for the first time, with some success (see recipe here). This year my friend and colleague Leigh said her family enjoyed them at their Mother’s Day feast. What else did they have? French grilled pork chops – with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, herbes de Provence, salt & pepper Yukon Gold potato and carrot purée. I can see the artful fiddlehead was the perfect side note.
Fiddlehead ferns by Leigh Montgomery
This New England delicacy is as beautiful as any of nature’s patterns or the scroll of a violin that inspires their name. To me nothing else tastes like an early spring evening or a verdant forest floor. When I see them I am transported back to a memorable fly-fishing trip on New Brunswick’s Miramichi river, where every night we retired to the lodge for salmon and fiddlehead variations on the side or in soup. About the taste – it does have a slightly wild taste and tough consistency, requiring a little trimming, softening and saucing. I found this recipe, from a 1992 Gourmet magazine issue, an easy and elegant way to introduce them to those who might not have tried them before.
Steamed fiddleheads with horseradish sauce
1 pound fiddleheads (available seasonally at smaller, specialty supermarkets or farm markets), cleaned*
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon drained bottled horseradish, or to taste
3 tablespoons finely chopped scallion green
In a steamer set over boiling water steam the fiddleheads for at least 10 minutes, ideally keeping them somewhat crisp-tender. Transfer to a bowl of ice and cold water to halt cooking, and then drain on paper towels.
In a small bowl whisk together the yogurt, the mayonnaise, the lemon juice, the mustard, the horseradish, the scallion, and salt and pepper to taste, whisking until the sauce is smooth, and serve the fiddleheads topped with the sauce.
Note: this makes quite a bit of sauce – add some gradually to your liking, and reserve the rest.
*To clean fiddleheads:
Fiddleheads bought in the store generally have about 2 inches of stem attached. Rub off any dry leaves by hand and put the fiddleheads in a colander and whisk. Trim the ends of the stem. Let the fiddleheads soak in a sink half full of cold water, changing the water a few times. Fiddleheads keep, covered and chilled, for 1 week.