The outdoor temperature is heating up and Fiddlehead Ferns have arrived. Enjoy tasty Ostrich Fiddlehead Ferns sautéed in simple olive oil and garlic with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. A nice light side that is only around a few weeks of the year!
For a few short weeks a year, you may have run into these tiny little spiral veggies at the store and wondered what the heck they are and more so how the heck to cook them. This seasonal veggie is called a Fiddlehead and they are found most often in New England and the Eastern parts of Canada from late April through to the end of May. Then they disappear till the next year.
Fiddleheads are also commonly enjoyed in parts of France, Asia and Russia and have been a part of Native North American diets for centuries.
What are Fiddleheads?
Fiddleheads are baby ostrich ferns that have yet to unravel their leafy greens. You can find them growing in wet wild areas like ravines, valleys, shady forest areas, and even ditches. Once they uncurl and become ferns they are no longer good to eat so get them at the store or farmers market while you can!
I don’t recommend foraging for your own because there are only a few varieties that are edible and the others tend to be a little poisonous… more on that later!
What do Fiddleheads Taste Like?
Fiddleheads taste sort of like the tips of asparagus on the leafy end and then have a snappier stalk that I find tastes a bit like snap pea pods. They are green-tasting but not overly so.
Ingredients You’ll need
- Fiddleheads – look for ones that are firm where the ends have a snap when broken. You want them to be bright green and with the leaves still tightly woven inside the curly end. Also, look for ones without brown/black marks except for on the ends of the stem.
- Olive oil – is used to sautee the garlic and fiddleheads. You can also substitute for a tablespoon of unsalted butter if you wish.
- Salt & pepper
- Lemon – used to squeeze over the fiddleheads just before serving to brighten up the flavor and add a little zing.
How To Cook Fiddleheads
Trim the ends off of each fiddlehead as well as any black parts of the stems. Submerge them in cold water swishing them and carefully brushing to remove any debris caught in the foliage.
Drain and discard the dirty water if using a bowl and repeat once or twice more to make sure they are as clean as possible. Since they are grown in moist wetlands amongst the mud and dirt washing well is very important.
Boil them for 15 minutes or steam them for 10-12 minutes then drain them in a colander to remove the water used to cook them.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
Add the garlic and let cook for 1-2 minutes being careful not to burn the garlic.
Toss the cleaned fiddleheads into the pan with the garlic and let cook for 2-3 minutes to absorb the garlicky goodness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over top before serving.
What kind of Fiddleheads are Edible?
Ostrich and Cinnamon Fern are the only two types of Fiddleheads that are harvested for consumption.
Other varieties are not safe to consume and are considered toxic. This is why it is not a good idea to go out to the forest looking for them unless you are a botanist who can tell the difference.
Are Fiddleheads Safe To Eat?
Yes if you stick to the ostrich fern fiddleheads (most common) or cinnamon fern fiddleheads. No, if you venture outside of these. And it is also important that they are cooked and cleaned well. To ensure safe eating always:
- Trim all the brown/black ends and defects from the fiddlehead stems and discard anywhere the fern part is black and decayed look.
- Wash the fiddleheads under cold water well before cooking to remove bacteria and debris. Then drain the water and rinse again.
- Boil first for about 15 minutes to cook or steam them for 12 minutes and ensure any bacteria or gross stuff is killed. Toss the water that you used!
- Then sautée them to use in risottos, soups, salads or to eat as a side dish with a little lemon.
What Will Happen if They Aren’t Prepared Safely?
Well first let me ask why you want to tempt faith. Feeling lucky?
You won’t die or anything but you may get an upset stomach, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, headaches, sweats… all the fun stuff! Just don’t.
What you do want to do is give them a try because they are delicious! Just eat them safely and take the time to wash and prepare them before chomping down.
How to Store Fiddlehead Ferns
Fresh fiddlehead ferns can typically be stored in the refrigerator for about 3 to 5 days. Make sure to store them properly so they stay fresh.
Using a paper bag or a perforated plastic bag and storing them in the vegetable crisper helps maintain the right humidity level and keeps them from drying out or becoming too moist.
But, it’s always best to use fiddlehead ferns as soon as possible to enjoy them at their peak flavor and texture. If you’re unable to use them within a few days, consider blanching and freezing them to extend their shelf life.
If you want to store leftovers of the cooked sautéed fiddleheads, simply store them in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Freezing Fiddleheads For Later
Even though fiddlehead ferns are only around for a few weeks a year doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them all year long.
All you need to do is freeze them! Here is what you need to do:
- Start by trimming and washing as you would if you were going to cook them right away.
- Blanche the ferns for 2 minutes. This means quickly bringing water to a boil for 2 minutes and then right away submerging them in cold water to stop the cooking process. This also helps them keep their nice green color.
- Drain the cold water and discard it.
- Use a clean dish towel or paper towel to dry up any excess water.
- Place the cleaned, blanched, and dried fiddleheads in a freezer-safe container or bag.
- Freeze for up to a year.
- When ready to prepare them follow the instructions beginning with steaming them for 10-12 minutes or boiling them for 15 minutes.
Recipes to Serve with Sautéed Fiddleheads
- Lemon Garlic Butter Shrimp
- Garlic & Rosemary Grilled Lamb Chops
- Air-Fryer Salmon Croquettes
- Flaky Oven Baked Salmon
- Easy Sweet & Spicy Chicken
Simple Sautéed Fiddleheads
- Chopping Knife
- large pot
- Large pan
- Measuring Spoons
- Wooden Spoon
- 1 lb Fiddleheads
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Trim the end of the fiddleheads and remove any blackened dark pieces from the fiddlehead and discard.
- In a large pot or sink wash the fiddleheads thoroughly under cold water to remove any dirt or debris. Discard water and wash 2 or 3 more times. Draining and discarding the dirty water with each wash.
- Boil the fiddleheads for 15 minutes or steam the fiddleheads in boiling water for 10-12 minutes. Drain through a strainer and discard the water.
- Add the olive oil and garlic to a pan over medium-high heat and add sautée for about 1-2 minutes to soften the garlic. Do not let the garlic brown.
- Add the fiddleheads, salt and pepper and stir to mix. Let cook for about 3 minutes to soften and take on the garlicky goodness. Transfer to a bowl with a generous squeeze of lemon over top and serve hot.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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For the step-by-step version of this recipe, check out the How to Make Sauteed Fiddleheads Story.