Saturday, April 19, 2008

Fiddlehead Fever

"Wow, these are just like restaurant fiddleheads," said Marty.

Yeah, that's because they're the same thing. Or almost. As I mentioned in a comment in an earlier post, I'm pretty sure the fiddleheads I found the other day are a species in the wood fern genus, possibly the spiny wood fern (Dryopteris expansa), also known as the spreading wood fern or buckler fern—not the famous ostrich fern fiddleheads of restaurants and farmer's markets.

Funnily enough, while Pacific Coast Native Americans enjoyed feasting on wood ferns, they passed up the fiddleheads for the root-like rhizomes, which reputedly cure tapeworm infections.

"In that case, forget the fiddleheads," chortled Marty. "You ought to be eating the rhizome."

We boiled the fiddleheads for five minutes, changed the water, and boiled them again for another five. After draining we sauteed them in a skillet with butter, salt, and a little pepper. Marty was bowled over. "These are just like vegetables!" Yup. "They're better than anything in the supermarket." Yup again.

The oft-repeated description of fiddleheads—that they taste like a cross between asparagus and artichoke—is dead on. Lightly sauteed, the coiled up foliage in the center takes on the same texture as asparagus tops, a crispy succulence that is strangely addictive. We just kept popping 'em into our mouths one after another until they were gone. The flavor is rich and buttery even without actual melted butter. Unlike cultivated veggies, though, fiddleheads have that same hint of earthiness that you find in porcini, stinging nettles, and other wild edibles. For a blast of this earthy dimension, put your face down near the colander as you drain the boiled fiddlheads and inhale the steam. It's like breathing in the forest floor.

Just the same, I can't give this variety the full thumbs-up. The papery sheath requires more than a little attention to remove, unlike the fiddleheads of the ostrich fern and other choice varieties, and it's impossible to rub it all off completely. The other thing is you'll be hard-pressed to find any information on the edibility of these particular fiddleheads, which can be a bit unnerving.


Anonymous said...

Looks like Martian poo.

Langdon Cook said...

Smith, this isn't a bathroom wall. Shape up boyo.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Love fiddleheads, which have a season of about 38 seconds in California.