I dusted off my violin last night for the first time in probably 2 years. I usually forget about it, but once every year or two, I am somehow inspired by something, or someone, to pick up my violin and start playing. Usually, it's a beautiful violin performance that I've heard, or perhaps something that reminds me of an orchestral piece I used to play.
Last night, however, was quite different. I picked up my violin because I had bought fiddlehead ferns at the market just a few days before. I was tickled how similarly the fiddleheads resembled an actual violin top. Of course that's why they are called fiddleheads. How cute, and how funny I never consciously thought about that before.
What are fiddleheads? Fiddleheads are the unfurled fronds of a new growth fern, typically the ostrich fern. Some species of fiddleheads (e.g., the Bracken fern, popular in Canada, Japan, and Korea) actually have been linked to stomach and esophagus cancer. Thankfully the ostrich fern (which is mostly what is sold in the US), does not carry this cancer risk.
But wait, the sign at the market had a little warning that said to boil or steam these babies before eating. DO NOT EAT RAW! Apparently a bunch of people suffered food poisoning from eating undercooked fiddleheads in New York and Canada back in 1994.
Make sure to wash these REALLY WELL before cooking them. Some instructions say to soak it multiple times in water. Others say to wash until the water is clear. Make sure to remove any brown bits, scales, etc.
Instructions varied with respect to what cooking time was necessary to make the fiddleheads safe to eat. I saw times as short as "blanch for 1-2 minutes" all the way up to "steam for 20 minutes!" At the same time, other recipes said not to overcook the fiddleheads, as you lose texture, nutrients, and taste.
Once you've cooked the fiddleheads, you can treat them like you would asparagus or broccoli. The taste reminds me of asparagus, and in some ways, they are similar in that they are both the young shoots of a plant. This time I just sauteed the fiddleheads in a bit of oil and sprinkled with salt. The flavor is mild, so you don't want to overpower it with a sauce that is too strong.
You can easily enjoy it in salads, pastas, or any other dish that would typically use asparagus.
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