This simple sautée highlights the fresh flavor of fiddlehead ferns with a savory richness of browned garlic.
If you choose to use the garlic or shallot, slice them rather than finely chopping or mincing them—the bigger pieces will keep their pungent aroma from overwhelming the delicate flavor of these pretty ferns. That being said, I've been known to toss in a few red pepper flakes, just because I like some spice, and I find the right amount can complement the grassy flavor of fiddleheads rather nicely. Many people would prefer to garnish this dish with a sprinkle of a more gently flavored herb, such as chervil, dill, or mint.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
* 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 to my mind 'tis better to forego fiddleheads entirely than to bother with ones that are half-spoiled. Sadly, I've all too often seen specialty markets selling sub-par fiddlehead ferns, as much mushy brown edges as bright green delight, at premium prices.