The other day, we were driving into town from my aunt’s place out in the country and stopped at a gas station/convenience store-type place to pick up some wine for dinner. I stayed in the car with the baby, and when my aunt and Mom returned they proudly announced that they had picked up a bunch of freshly-picked fiddlehead ferns. Which, given that neither of them is particularly into experimental cooking, edible plantlife, or delicacies that can be purchased in ziploc bags at gas stations, was kind of weird.
As it turns out, they were excited because apparently fiddlehead ferns are super rare, only popping up in rural areas for two to three weeks a year, and they thought (correctly) that I would be really into giving the things a whirl.
So, much to the rest of my family’s dismay (my other aunt, my cousin, and her husband all declared that they were horrible and/or bitter, and only very reluctantly allowed me to include them on the evening’s menu), decided to make them as my contribution to that night’s dinner.
I thought about dousing them in cheese or something else that would let them look pretty but mask their taste a bit…but then I did a little research, and discovered that people online were raving about the flavor. It seems that the horrible/bitter thing happens when you either over or under-cook the things. And besides, whenever you’re trying something new and weird, it makes sense to me to actually…you know…try it. The way it’s meant to be tried.
And so my plan of attack was to do a very basic preparation, but to concentrate on cooking them for the exact right amount of time.
FIDDLEHEAD FERNS, STRAIGHT-UP
1. Wash the fiddlehead ferns several times, until the water runs clear. Drain.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the ferns for 4-5 minutes. In the meantime, prepare a bowl of ice water for blanching.
3. After 4-5 minutes, remove the ferns from the heat and immediately strain them and dunk them into the ice bath. (This will help them keep their lovely deep-green color.)
4. Put several large pats of butter in a frying pan (I used a really enormous lot of butter, as I tend to do with vegetables) and saute the ferns for another 4-5 minutes, until tender (taste them to make sure they’re to your liking). Serve with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon.
They taste sorta like a cross between spinach and corn on the cob. They are delicious.
(Oh, and every single member of my family? Had seconds.)