Fiddlehead Fern Fail

April 24, 2012

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!