Curious little ferns, fiddleheads are only available for a short number of weeks in the early spring. These delicacies taste of asparagus or cooked spinach without the bitterness. As fiddleheads are a wild and not cultivated vegetable, they are often high in a variety of vitamins and minerals. They are also a source of omega 3 & 6 fatty acids as well as containing high levels of iron, vitamin K and fibre. Shikimic acid is a toxin present in fiddleheads along with a few other sources (Japanese & Chinese star anise, sweetgum fruit and pine needles contain low levels). It is classified as a group 3 carcinogen which means that it is not classifiable as carcinogenic to humans.
Check the farmers market or maybe even the grocery store for fiddleheads this month. Note that they MUST be cooked and cannot be eaten raw. Sauteing, roasting, pickling, steaming or boiling are common preparations of the vegetable. Boiling fiddleheads reduces the bitterness, tannins and toxins in the vegetable and is the preferred method of cooking. Be sure to wash fiddleheads very well, removing any of the papery husk before cooking. It is recommended to boil fiddleheads for 15 minutes or steam for 10-12, until al-dente. Undercooking can lead to an upset stomach comparable to food poisoning.
A simple preparation for a first-time fiddlehead experience could be boiled and dressed with butter, salt and pepper but for those a little more adventurous I have a recipe from Saveur.com for you!
3 cups (about ½ lb.) fresh or thawed frozen fiddlehead ferns
8 large shell-on shrimp (about ½ lb.)
1 cup coconut milk, well-stirred
⅓ cup water
2½ tbsp. fresh lime juice
1½ tsp. sugar
3 red thai chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
Salt, to taste
Jasmine rice for four
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add fiddlehead ferns, reduce heat to medium, and cook until just tender, 2–3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer ferns to a bowl and set aside; return water to a boil. Add shrimp, reduce heat to medium, and boil gently until almost cooked through, about 1 minute; drain. When cool enough to handle, peel and devein shrimp; set aside.
2. Combine coconut milk and water in a medium pot. Bring just to a boil, add reserved ferns, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until softened, 3–5 minutes. Add reserved shrimp, lime juice, sugar, thai chiles, shallots, and salt. Cook until shallots are softened, about 2 minutes.
3. Ladle curry over steamed jasmine rice.