This simple sautée is an easy way to bring out the fresh flavor of fiddlehead ferns. The savory richness of golden garlic, should you choose to use it, highlights their naturally grassy flavor.
As always with sauteing, heat the pan first, then add the oil or butter to coat the pan, then toss in the ferns. You may be tempted to cook them just a bit and keep them crisp but know that fully cooking fiddleheads reduces the chance of food poisoning from these wild-grown delicacies.
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1 pound fiddlehead ferns*
- 2 teaspoons butter or vegetable oil
- Trim the fiddlehead ferns, removing any brown ends or mushy parts. Rinse them clean in cool water. Only do this right before cooking them—the added moisture will make these delicate fronds spoil if done too far ahead of time.
- If using the garlic or shallot, peel it and slice it very thinly. Don't chop or mince them: slicing and ending up with bigger pieces will keep their pungent aroma from overwhelming the delicate flavor of these pretty ferns.
- In a large pot bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add the salt and the cleaned fiddleheads. Cook for 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water until the fiddleheads cool off (or dunk them in a bowl of ice water to cool them). Drain them and lay them out on layers of paper towels to pat them dry. This process of blanching removes the bitter edge of fiddleheads. If their bitterness doesn't bother you, feel free to skip this step.
- In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the blanched fiddleheads. Cook, stirring frequently, until they start to brown on the edges, about 5 minutes (longer if they aren't blanched). Add the garlic or shallots, if you like, and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant and just starting to color, about 1 minute.
- Salt to taste and serve immediately.
- If you like spice, toss in a few red pepper flakes or a bit of chopped fresh green chile—the right amount can complement the grassy flavor of fiddleheads quite nicely.
- Garnish these springtime ferns with a sprinkle of a gently flavored spring herb, such as chervil, dill, or mint.
- Add a small dollop of crème fraîche or plain yogurt alongside the ferns.
- Spritz on a bit of lemon juice before serving or grate a bit fo lemon zest on instead.
* Always look for fiddleheads that are green and bright, with minimal browning on the edges. Unless you forage for them yourself, this is tricky, but know that significantly browned or soft fiddleheads will be more bitter than grassy, with their delicate grassy flavor overwhelmed by a vague muddiness. Everyone must choose for themselves, of course, but it seems better to forego fiddleheads entirely than to bother with ones that are half-spoiled, especially since they are often quite expensive. Sadly, one all too often sees specialty markets selling sub-par fiddlehead ferns, as much mushy brown edges as bright green delight, at truly premium prices.