Saturday, May 3, 2008

Fiddlehead Cream Sauce

I lectured someone the other day—not harshly, but with firmness, because we're dealing with life and death, after all—about eating unidentified wild mushrooms. The cardinal rule, I explained, is to always sample a new species in the company of an experienced mycophagist who can point out diagnostic field marks. Watching a real person positively ID a real mushroom is important because books and field guides are sometimes misleading, especially with their use of pictures. There's more variance in the fungal kingdom than the animal kingdom; while a species of bird can generally be counted on to exhibit a specific set of traits (e.g. wing-bars, eye-rings, coloration, etc.), a species of mushroom might look quite different depending on locale, growing conditions, age, and other factors. In many cases the variations actually represent different species within a genus that haven't been recognized yet. Think of all the variance in morels, for example.

Sometimes I wonder if I should be following the same advice with fiddleheads. Several sources say there are no poisonous species of fiddlehead (not counting the carcinogenic bracken fern). Is this a general rule based on a limited sample, or have all varieties of fiddlehead really been tested for edibility? Somehow I doubt it. Certainly some are bitter or otherwise unappetizing. I would never try to eat a sword fern fiddlehead, for instance.

On my hike the other day I collected a bagful of fiddleheads. I have no idea what species they were. Like the wood fern fiddleheads I found the other day, they had fairly prominent paper sheathes. But these fiddleheads were smaller and more delicate, and usually within a clump I could find one or two that were relatively free of the sheath and easier to clean.

In the end, I ate them anyway—and they were fantastic. I boiled the fiddleheads for 10 minutes, then made a cream sauce with them which I poured over fried rockfish and buttered orzo. My timing was slightly off, resulting in a sauce that had a consistency more like cream of spinach. No matter, it was delicious way beyond my expectations. Fiddleheads are the bomb.

Fiddlehead Cream Sauce (for 1)

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 dozen fiddleheads, boiled
1-2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup (or more) heavy cream
seasoning to taste

Saute the shallot in a tablespoon or so of butter for a minute or two. Add fiddleheads and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add cream. I used half-and-half, but heavy cream is always better if you have it on hand. Allow to thicken and pour over fish, meat, pasta, whatever.

[Sorry about the photo. The meal was actually much more appetizing than the picture. My little digi point-and-shoot reaches its limit on these low-light, dinnertime snapshots. I plan to get an SLR one of these years... -Ed.]


Anonymous said...

I can't believe you have been shooting with a point- and-shoot. Your photos are amazing! No telling what you could do with an SLR.

Langdon Cook said...

Thanks Poppy! If the light conditions are good, I can squeeze off a decent macro with my Canon Elph, but as you can see in the above picture, evening shots with artificial light look grainy and washed out. Also, I didn't compose that one very well. The sauce was overcooked so the fiddleheads lost their miraculous violin scroll shape. Still v. tasty though!

The key that I've found to good food photos--and I'd like to get yr opinion on this b/c the photos are excellent on Mixed Greens--is to get down on the level of the food rather than from some sort of omnipotent overhead level. Maybe this is Food Photo 101, but it usually works for me...

GG said...

I'm trying your recipe tonight! Will have it over salmon.