Prized for their whimsical appearance and garden-fresh flavor, fiddleheads are a delicacy that can only be enjoyed for a short window of time each year.
How Fiddleheads Taste
Fiddleheads have a fresh, vegetal and grassy flavor with a hint of sweetness. Their taste is often likened to asparagus or spinach. They have a tender yet snappy texture similar to green peas. Uncooked fiddleheads are bitter and slightly toxic, so they can’t be eaten raw.
How to Shop for Fiddleheads
Fiddleheads are usually foraged rather than farmed as they are only in season for a few weeks each year. You can typically find them in farmers’ markets or groceries around mid-spring. And while you can forage for fiddleheads, it’s best to consult someone with experience or leave it to the professionals as it can be difficult to distinguish between the edible fiddleheads and the poisonous varieties.
The most common variety of fiddleheads you’ll find being sold is ostrich ferns. They have a grassy green color and a thin, tube-like shape that naturally forms into a tightly wound spiral. Look for ones that haven’t unfurled and have no discoloration. Don’t worry too much about any papery brown skin as it can easily be rubbed off before cooking. You’ll also want to avoid any fuzzy-skinned fiddleheads if you come across them; ostrich ferns should be smooth.
How to Cook Fiddleheads
The most popular way to eat fiddleheads is sauteed. A simple combination of butter, lemon juice, garlic, and salt will let the vibrant woodsy flavors of the fiddlehead shine.
As a rule of thumb, you can prepare fiddleheads any way you would prepare asparagus. They’re delicious steamed, roasted, braised, and incorporated into savory baked goods like pizzas or tarts. Pair them with other spring vegetables such as spinach, artichokes, or radishes and spring herbs like dill, chives, and parsley. Their whimsical shape also makes them a standout ingredient for trendy garden focaccia.
Take note that fiddleheads are slightly toxic when raw, so you’ll want to cook them through for at least 5 minutes to ensure food safety.