Fiddlehead Fern

Continuing a celebration of Spring


photo from

I passed the mushroom stand at the market and there they were, gleaming green and beckoning to me, fiddlehead ferns. Oh boy.

Home and into the refrigerator and well, they slipped my mind for a couple of days. Carol is doing a Cornish hen for dinner and I’m making plane reservations. “Can I use these fiddleheads?” she said.

“Sure, I think we just sautéed them before, but I’ll check the Internet for recipes,” said I.

Well, I Googled “fiddlehead” and the descriptions, facts and recipes came forth as if a fiddlehead cornucopia (if you twist your mind a bit, a fiddlehead looks like a cornucopia.

I learned a lot. It’s especially fun to compare information from various sites, and in the case of fiddleheads, there are experts galore. Most are from the northeast — Maine, Vermont, Quebec — and take pride in the gathering and foraging as well as the cooking and eating. (Rule: Unusual foods have — self-proclaimed — experts, common foods don’t.)


Nearly all the experts say to clean and trim the fiddleheads. A water bath and snipping of the stems will do the trick. Don’t scrub or handle them roughly, as there is lots of goodness in the clingy, somewhat fuzzy coil.

I learned to blanch fiddleheads in boiling water for one minute if using in a dish that will be further cooked. Cook fiddleheads in simmering water for 5 to 7 minutes (some say 7 to 8 minutes) for use in a salad. Some say to plunge into ice water after cooking, some don’t.


My only Fiddlehead recipe before this foray into Fiddleheads was gleaned from the New York Times in April of 06: Fiddlehead Fern and Morel Salad. It instructed me to, “Add ferns to boiling water and simmer for 1 minute. Drain and immediately transfer to ice water to chill. Drain again.” I never got around to cooking it at the time — both fiddleheads and morels have a short season. When I did get some fiddleheads — but not morels — I seem to remember blanching my fiddleheads and sautéing in butter, reminiscent of fiddleheads eaten at a restaurant in Boston. I’ll see if morels are in season at the Farmers Market on Saturday.

Lacking morels now, I opted to use my fiddleheads and what I had on hand. Here’s the recipe I started with, from, and what I did with it.


Serves 4

2 cups fiddleheads, trimmed and cleaned
1/4 cup black olives, pitted and sliced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil (citrus butter LO from a grits dish)
salt to taste
1 tablespoon chives, chopped

Cook the fiddleheads in salted boiling water until tender. Drain. Toss the hot ferns with the olives, lemon juice, olive oil and salt.
Let cool. Sprinkle with chives and serve.

Modified and cooked 5.08 — They needed washing and trimming, most likely because they had been in the refrigerator for nearly six days. Real good, though. The olives provided a nice background for the bright fiddleheads, in color and in taste. The citrus butter gave just the right acidity.


There’s the fiddlehead and olive salad, served with Cornish hen over grilled polenta. That’s a Mahoney Vineyard Albarino “Las Brisas Vineyard” wine. Made from the Spanish Albarino grape, the wine has a pretty pale gold color with aromas of peach and hints of pineapple and flint in the background. Just right to compliment the roasted hen.

Fiddlehead Fern and Morel Salad
I got morels at the Saturday Market along with another supply of fiddleheads. Using the NY Times recipe as a guide, I got to work on dinner. First, I cut the recipe in half, to serve two as a vegetable course. Then, the morels smelled so good cooking, I decided to use them warm on the salad, rather than cool as called for in the recipe.

Morels are expensive — over $20 a pound — as are fiddlehead ferns, but they are very rich, and you don’t need a lot for a fully satisfying dish.

Can’t go too far wrong with those beauties.

Fiddlehead Fern and Morel Salad (revised)
NY Times April 2006, Adapted from Melissa Perello, revised by eatsforone June 2008

FOR TWO as a vegetable course
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 ounces morels, halved lengthwise and rinsed
4 ounces fiddlehead ferns, trimmed (see note)
1 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 tablespoons walnut Champagne vinegar
1/2 tablespoon premium quality aged balsamic vinegar, more for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Aged Gouda (for shaving)

1. Fill a pot with lightly salted water and bring to a boil. Set aside a bowl of ice water. Add ferns to boiling water and simmer for 1 minute. Drain and immediately transfer to ice water to chill. Drain again. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl.

2. Melt butter in a medium skillet over low heat and add mushrooms. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add, hot, to mixing bowl.

3. Add oil, walnut vinegar and balsamic vinegar to mixing bowl. Toss well, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Arrange equal portions of salad in center of two plates. Drizzle a little oil and balsamic vinegar in a circle around each salad, and shave a few slices of cheese on top. Serve immediately with toast points.


Fiddleheads and morels are a perfect combination; bright, rich, crisp with a bite, soft melt in your mouth, tangy, smooth. Even with the meager quantities used, we had enough left over for an appetizer the following day.

Part Three
The rest of the story…
In addition to the dishes described above, here is a summary of the wealth of fiddlehead lore that I rounded up on the web.

fiddlehead.jpg fiddlehead.jpg fiddlehead.jpg

Fiddlehead Fern — — definitions, descriptions and tips for use.

Maine Fiddlehead Recipes — — Our favorite way to prepare fresh fiddleheads is to clean thoroughly and place in boiling water and boil for 7 to 8 minutes. Top with butter and salt and pepper to taste and serve as a delicious vegetable side dish.
Marinated Fiddleheads — —Submitted by Elisabeth Price on 6/11/2005 7:35:48 AM —Olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. Refrigerate in a jar with tight-fitting lid.
Quick Marinated Fiddleheads — — Blanch fiddleheads and add cut up peppers, wild leeks, herbs, sugar, salt and olive oil.
Fiddlehead Ferns — — This section is dedicated to Mrs Céline Legouffe, from Cascapedia St. Jules, Québec, Canada, a professional fiddlehead harvester. FIDDLEHEADS, ASPARAGUS AND NEW POTATOES steamed in herb steaming liquid, Fiddleheads with White Bean and Shrimp Salad, Sautéed Fiddleheads with Pancetta

Those all seem to me to be interesting alternatives for the balance of the local fiddlehead season.

One thought on “Fiddlehead Fern

  1. Unlike strawberry + rhubarb, fiddleheads + morels are truly a contemporaneous pairing, as they both pop up around here in Maine just as the black flies bloom. Great post about a lesser known ingredient. I love your comment that unusual foods often have self-proclaimed experts…! One complaint: you didn’t say whether your fiddleheads were imported from the East Coast, or if they were picked in CA, they must have been from Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) transplants — recently, or from back in the Pioneer days?


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