Fiddlehead Fern Fail

I like to bring home new things that I find in the produce aisle and experiment in my kitchen, and this post is about an unsuccessful experiment. They can’t all yield gold. Sometimes they yield… um… mud. Brackish swamp water? coal? Not quite sure how to finish that analogy.

We’ll get to my kitchen fiasco shortly. First: a few things to catch up on:

Giveaway. Have you entered my Edible Arrangements giveaway yet? Tsk tsk if you haven’t! I’m giving away $68 of fruit (!) to one lucky winner, and you can’t win if you don’t enter! Click here for the details.

Produce Haul. Yesterday morning, the only fruit in my kitchen was some frozen strawberries and half of a lemon, and my veggie supply was also running low. Whole Foods to the rescue! Here’s what I brought home from the store:

From left-to-right and down each column, we have: 4 navel oranges, pre-cut broccoli and cauliflower, a honeydew, a sweet onion, 2 kiwis, a head of celery, a red spring onion (more on this guy later), baby carrots, 2 zucchini, 3 red peppers, 1 cucumber, 4 Rainier apples, 1 package mushrooms, 4 red bartlett pears, 1 bag red grapes, 1 package baby heirloom tomatoes, 1 Anaheim pepper, 1 head napa cabbage, and pre-trimmed green beans.

Lots of healthy options is always a good thing!

Foot. It’s been about a week since I mysteriously injured my left foot, and I’m happy to announce that it’s felt wonderful for about 4 days now. Postponing my big 163-story stair climb challenge was the right thing to do (now I’m doing it on 5/5/12 – donate here!), because I’m going to take the time to make sure it’s all healed and I’m fully prepared instead of rushing into anything.

That said, after taking it easy for the past week, I’ve been jonesing for some StairMaster. Because I didn’t want to aggravate my injury if it wasn’t fully healed, I decided yesterday to give the StairMaster a try, but with some parameters: I wouldn’t go for over 10 minutes, and I wouldn’t exceed 60 steps per minute, which is my warm-up speed. I stuck to my rules, and after those 10 minutes, I was feeling the burn in my legs. I’m eager to get full-force back into my stair-climb training, but I know I gotta work my way up.

Ten minutes on the StairMaster was a good start. In those 10 minutes, I climbed 37 stories, which means it’s time to add a new building to my Skyscraper Collection!

Meet the AEGON Center, the tallest building in Kentucky. This Louisville skyscraper is 35 stories, and it’s the first building in my collection that is topped with a dome (it’s 80 feet high). You can’t see it that well in the picture, but out front of the AEGON Center is a statue of Alysheba, a well-known racehorse that won the Kentucky Derby in 1987. He’s also quite the stud: he fathered eleven other champion racehorses. I’d say Keep It Up to Alysheba, but he passed in 2009.

Now on to the main event!

FIDDLEHEAD FAIL. I was ecstatic last week when I saw, at the store, fiddlehead ferns. I don’t think I’ve seen them since I was in college, but I was a poor college kid back then, and much less inclined to spend money on food items I’ve never tried before.

I think fiddlehead ferns are one of the coolest-looking things I’ve ever seen in a supermarket (right up there with dragon fruit and romanesco broccoli).

I’m reminded of the poster for the 1993 movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Maybe Jack Skellington is actually walking on a giant fiddlehead fern?

Fiddlehead ferns are quite literally curled up baby fern fronds. Once they grow bigger and unfurl, they’re no longer edible, so these are harvested out in the woods (they’re not farmed) for a few weeks each spring. Fiddlehead doesn’t refer to an actual species of fern, it refers to the shape of them, since they look like the top of a string instrument. Fiddlehead ferns can actually be any number of different fern species, and in the US, they’re mostly Bracken, Ostrich, or Cinnamon ferns, which grow throughout the northeast and northwest.

Fiddleheads are good sources of potassium, fiber, antioxidants, and Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. On the flip side, there is evidence that they may contain trace amounts of carcinogenics, so I wouldn’t make them a staple of your diet.

I thoroughly washed and dried my ferns, and washed them again for good measure. I decided to make a big stir-fry, so I chopped up a bunch of other veggies:

That’s cauliflower, baby eggplant, brussel sprouts, and yellow zucchini. I also added in a second new-to-me vegetable: a red spring onion. I saw these at the store a few minutes after finding the fiddleheads, and one immediately ended up in my cart. They’re pretty.

Even though I hadn’t bought one before, I was familiar with them – I think because I saw them on the Food Network or something. Basically, you cut off the dark green tops, and use the rest in any way you would use scallions. I chopped it into matchsticks (and was a little bummed it was only red on the outermost layer).

The fiddleheads went into the skillet (which I had coated with non-stick spray) first – I had read that they needed a good long 12-15 minutes to cook. Soon, I added the rest of the veggies. For a sauce, I cracked open a bottle of cilantro and lime dressing that I had in my cupboard. I like both cilantro and lime, and had read that citrus goes well with fiddleheads, so it seemed like a good fit. Plus, it’s oil-free, fat-free, and is only 5 calories a tablespoon – so I added about a quarter-cup.

For protein, I chopped up two veggie burger patties and added them in to the skillet. It was a lot of food – good for two meals, at least.

Fifteen minutes after the fiddleheads first hit the heat, I had a finished meal.

Looks tasty, right?

It tasted gross.

The fiddleheads were bitter little buggers – they had the bite and the texture of asparagus, but bitter. The dressing I used as sauce was extraordinarily acidic and sour (it has listed among the ingredients lime juice, lemon juice, and vinegar – so that’s why). Bitter + Sour = not very good.

I’m curious if any of you have had experience with fiddlehead ferns, and if so, what worked for you? Any tips or tricks?

I’m not one to give up after a single attempt (although given the fiddleheads’ short harvesting season, I may not get another attempt until next spring). I’ve already looked at a bunch of fiddlehead recipes, a lot of which call for steaming or boiling them, so maybe I’ll try one of those next time.

Even though this attempt wasn’t nearly as successful as previous ones, I’m proud that I give new things a whirl, and look forward to my next produce aisle find!

Keep it up, David!

26 Responses to Fiddlehead Fern Fail

  1. Cassy says:

    Fiddleheads are a HUGE thing in Maine. I absolutely love them but my fiance feels like he is eating baby aliens or something (obviously he isn’t a Mainer :p). Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly why they were so bitter… I know they aren’t “in season” here and they are definitely something you want to eat when they are in season. I have boiled them for 10 minutes and added just a little bit of butter to them. I have also sauted them in olive oil, with onion and garlic. Mmm. I hope you will give them another try!

  2. pamasaurus says:

    I’ve never cooked fiddleheads myself, but while visiting my in-laws in Maine, we visited a restaurant that served breaded and deep fried fiddleheads. They were pretty tasty. Of course, almost anything deep fried is delicious, haha.

    • David says:

      Mmmm deep fried fiddleheads! They do sound delicious… but like you said – you can’t go wrong with deep frying anything! Just ask the food vendors at any state fair!

  3. Melissa says:

    I’ve never cooked them, but my mom has. She never sautéed them from raw. She would always boil or steam them first and then sauté them.

  4. Alton Welch says:

    I cook them like I would cook green beans (low braising with onion and mushrooms and a low fat margarine. Season with salt and pepper. YUM!

  5. Ellie Wing says:

    Hi, David. I think you’re doing an AMAZING job incorporating your fruits & veggies into some AWESOME recipes. And, oh yeah…you’re diet ROCKS!! As for fiddleheads…OMG are they DELICIOUS!! I find their flavor is somewhat reminiscent of brussel sprouts/spinach, so perhaps they had a conflict with the brussel sprouts in your recipe? I imagine we should be seeing them in our produce isle within the next couple of weeks up here in MA, & I’m totally looking forward to them!! As for me…I take them home, & thoroughly wash them, & then snip any dead ends before throwing them into a collapsible steamer sitting in a pot filled with about an inch of boiling water. Cover the pot, & let them steam for about 10 minutes. They should be fork tender now, so throw out the water, dump the fiddleheads back into the empty pot, & toss them up with your favorite spices (I like to use garlic powder, seasoned salt, black pepper, & crushed red hot pepper. Mmm Mmm Mmm!

    • David says:

      Thanks, Ellie, for the kind words and the awesome fiddlehead advice. I hope this year brings you an abundance of fiddleheads at your local market, because you sure know what to do with them! -David

  6. Jessa says:

    I have never cooked them, but I saw them mentioned in a vegan blog I like to follow.. you can check it out here:

    • David says:

      Thanks for the link – it’s very cool she has them in her backyard and I had NO IDEA that unfurled grown fern fronds were toxic. Good to know! I like her simple recipe, and it involves cooking them twice – also good to know!

  7. Pat says:

    Yay Tim Burton Shout Out!!

  8. niamibunni says:

    Someone on TV the other day said “You do not want to cook fiddlehead ferns al dente.”

    That’s all I know! 🙂

  9. I’m glad you were honest…and you made me laugh! I was all excited about something new…the fiddle head ferns. I’m not so sure I’m going to be that adventurous, if the outcome is “iffy”–but the rest of your stir-fry looks fabulous. I love the other vegetables! Glad your foot is doing better, David. Debra

    • David says:

      Thanks, Debra! Growing up, there was a period when we made stir-fries two times a week. If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to stir-fry!

  10. Sylvia Hall says:

    I had the same experience, after reading about them for years. They just tasted..yuck! I guess one could use them for survival food..but I’d rather eat sorrel..or cook nettles like spinach.

  11. debbie telson says:

    I would share the friut basket. There are seven of us dieting and exercising every day. This would be a wonderful healhty treat for everyone to enjoy without the gilt.

  12. I dont like fiddleheads! People used to pick them off the side of the highway to eat. Bleh.

  13. renee crawford says:

    hey David I made an amazing side dish tonight. I boiled the fiddle heads for about 10 minutes then added them to already warmed butter garlic red onion and the juice of a lemon. I then added a purple heirloom carrot, one yellow zucchini copped and half a red apple chopped sauteed all this on low about 35 mins delicious!!!

  14. Heather Berson says:

    Just reading this now. Ha! I’m reading your posts a bit out of order. Anyway – so that must be where “…fiddleferns and lettuce…” comes from in the Witch’s rap in Into the Woods! Never stopped to think about that until you wrote this post.

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