Fiddlehead Season Is Here

Harvested fiddleheads. Photo by Peter Passi.

 

Every spring when fiddleheads come into the season the same questions come up. How to clean them? Are they toxic? And do they need to be boiled for an hour?

The Forager Chef puts it best in his blog:

There’s all sorts of advice out there on how to cook them: blanch five minutes, blanch ten minutes, saute afterwords and cook them to death in oil, put them in lasagna and bake them to oblivion, then pull out long, soft and stringy noodles as you eat, etc, ad nauseum.

To save some time and be succinct, here’s the crux of this recipe: you don’t need to cook fiddleheads to oblivion.

Cleaning fiddleheads is as simple as trimming the stem end with a sharp paring knife and giving them a good rinse in a few changes of water. The leafy detritus found on fiddleheads usually floats up to the surface of the water and is easily discarded. Because they grow a few inches off the ground they usually don’t have much dirt to speak of and are clean after a couple of rinses in cold water. As for boiling, consider the okra.

 

Expertly blanched fiddleheads by The Forager Chef

 

Fiddleheads and okra are not related but they are kissing cousins in the mouthfeel department – that sliminess comes out only when they are overcooked. Boiling turns them to mush, same as boiling spinach, asparagus or okra. But blanching them is just fine. The difference between those two little words – boiling vs blanching – is vast.

Boiling is for potatoes. Blanching is ideal for fresh green vegetables. It cooks them just enough. And having a bowl of ice water nearby to shock them is super important. Shocking them in an ice bath stops the cooking, locks in the bright green colour, and most importantly, eliminates the potential for mushiness. Here’s a tutorial from The Forager Chef that takes you through the whole process.

 

 

With fiddleheads, the faster you cook them the better. Tried and true is to simply clean them well, blanche them for exactly 1 minutes, shock them in ice water and then get a cast iron pan heating up with a good amount of butter. Once it begins to foam, toss in your raw fiddleheads, season well and wait to they turn a bright green. That’s it. They are ready to serve.

 

Tempura fiddleheads by Food 52

 

Another brilliant way to cook them is battered. After a quick blanche (1 minute!) in boiling, salted water, you shock them to stop the cooking. Then batter them in a nice light tempura, the lightness comes from club soda in the batter. It’s the perfect medium to get them light and crispy without overcooking. This recipe is adapted from Food 52.

 

Tempura Fiddleheads

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch

egg, beaten

1 cup club soda

1/2 pound fiddleheads

oil for frying

2 tablespoons sesame oil

Togarashi (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

lime wedges

 

Directions

  1. To make the tempura, combine the flour with 1 tablespoon of the corn starch in a mixing bowl, and refrigerate it along with the beaten egg and club soda until you are ready to make the tempura batter—cold ingredients will ensure a light, airy tempura.
  2. Set a pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, clean the fiddleheads by swishing them around in a bowl of cold water to remove any dirt or brown papery skin, and trim the ends. Blanche the fiddleheads in the boiling water for 1 minute. Put in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain well and pat dry.
  3. Heat at least 1 to 2 inches of canola oil plus the sesame oil in a skillet over high heat. Dredge the fiddleheads in the remaining 1/4 cup of cornstarch and shake off the excess. Combine the beaten egg with the club soda and pour into the flour mixture. Using a pair of chopsticks or a fork, stab at the flour for no more than 20 to 30 seconds to loosely combine it with the liquid but maintain lumps and pockets of dry flour.
  4. Turn the heat under the skillet down to medium and, working quickly, dunk a fiddlehead in the batter using chopsticks or small tongs and drop it into the hot oil. Repeat with the other fiddleheads but do not crowd the skillet. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until the fiddleheads turn lightly golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels and immediately sprinkle lightly with the togarashi, pepper and sea salt. Fry the remaining batches. Serve immediately with lime wedges and a dipping sauce of your choice.


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