Spring has sprung and so have fiddleheads for just a few weeks. Enjoy these tasty baby ferns sauteed in simple olive oil and garlic with a squeeze of lemon.
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 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 at the store 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.
Sauteed Fiddleheads – 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 flavour 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. Wash them in cold water swishing them around to remove the debris or washing by hand over a colander. 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.
First, boil them or steam them for 10 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.
Add the washed and drained fiddleheads to the pan and let cook for 2-3 minutes to absorb the garlicky goodness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix.
Transfer to a serving bowl and finish with a squeeze of lemon 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 (most common) or cinnamon 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 looking.
- Wash the fiddleheads under cold water well before cooking to remove bacteria and debris.
- Boil first for about 10-12 minutes to cook and ensure any bacteria or gross stuff is killed.
Then sautee them, and use them in risottos, soups, salads etc.
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.
Now what I don’t want you to do is not try them because they are delicious and special because they are only available a few weeks of the year. Just eat them safely and take the time to wash and prepare them before chomping down.
Some Recipes to Serve with Sauteed Fiddleheads
- Lemon Garlic Butter Shrimp
- Garlic & Rosemary Grilled Lamb Chops
- Air-Fryer Salmon Croquettes
- Flaky Oven Baked Salmon
- Easy Sweet & Spicy Chicken
Simple Sauteed 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 or steam the fiddleheads in boiling water for 10-12 minutes. Drain through a strainer.
- Add the olive oil and garlic to a pan over medium-high heat and add sautee 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.
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For the step-by-step version of this recipe, check out the How to Make Sauteed Fiddleheads Story.