A few months ago Phil came home from work with a question; did I know of fiddlehead ferns? I didn’t, well not by name anyway. Phil had been discussing food with his boss, a fiercely proud Mainer named Dan, when the topic of fiddleheads came up. Apparently fiddleheads are abundant in Maine and foraging for them is a popular pastime. According to Dan, they are quite delicious sauteed in butter and finished with vinegar. I did a little research and found that I did know of fiddleheads, but mostly due to the fact that young ferns are growing everywhere around here. Although I was able to find abundant information of fiddleheads, I could hardly find anything on fiddlehead sources in Washington.
I knew this had to be wrong because if there is one thing we have in droves, it’s ferns*. Our forest floors, backyards and roadsides are covered with them. But I confess my knowledge of them is limited to the handy trick of rubbing them on the skin to relieve a nettle sting, (another plant of great abundance here in the great PNW). I’ve been keeping an eye out for these little green party favors ever since we moved back and I finally ran across them the other day at Uwajimaya. Needless to say, I loaded up.
It is a policy in my kitchen to first cook a new ingredient simply in order to analyze the taste and texture before I explore new creative possibilities. So as is the norm, I sauteed them up with olive oil, sel de mer and a touch of garlic. The first taste was a lovely thing; crisp, woodsy reminiscent of asparagus, but with a smoother finish and small tickly fronds to make for a delightful mouth feel. They went perfectly with the bottle of Viognier Emile sent me home with.
I learned a few of things in my first foray with fiddleheads. First, the most efficient way to clean them is to place them in a bowl of cold water, agitate them with your hands to remove any little fronds that may have gone a bit brown, paying special attention to the center where dirt may be in hiding. Second, be sure to trim the ends off. I like to cut them on a bias using the theory of fresh cut flowers, so they soak up any juices they come into contact with. This will come in especially handy when preparing this weeks pickle recipe. Third, use them right after you buy them as they do not keep long. Sadly the cute little fronds do promote rotting.
I came up with this quick and simple pickling recipe for a few reasons. One, I love pickled anything**. Two I am a bit of a reluctant/fearful canner, this recipe is for a small batch, so unless you absolutely must there is no need to go there. Three, who wouldn’t want a pickle recipe that takes just minutes of prep time?
(I’m a bit listy today aren’t I)
Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns
3 cups Fiddlehead Ferns
1 1/2 cups Rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups Filtered water
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp Caraway
2 TBS Fresh dill
1 small Garlic clove, grated or minced
1 tsp sel de mer (sea salt)
Boil the fiddleheads in salted water for two minutes and remove to an ice bath. After the cooking has been stopped drain the fiddleheads well. Place them in a medium bowl with the garlic and dill.
Heat a sauce pan over medium heat and toast the Szechuan peppercorns and Caraway until aromatic. Lower the heat and adding the water and vinegar, being careful as the pan may spit a little. Allow the liquid to steep a few minutes before pouring over the fiddleheads. Place in the fridge and allow the fiddleheads to marinate overnight.
These would go well with charcruterie, in a potato salad or just as they are. Use your imagination.
Note: You may think I’m being a bit fussy making you shock the fiddleheads in an ice bath, but I promise you it it necessary. If you don’t, the cooking process will continue and you will end up with mushy fiddleheads.
* Those ferns in Return of the Jedi weren’t on Endor. That’s right, it was Washington State.
**I cannot handle pickles with alum. The worst mango pickle I have ever had tasted as if I opened a container of alum powder and dug in with a spoon. Sad mango.