Fiddlehead ferns with garlic, a splash of lemon juice, spring onions, chilli flakes and a drizzle of grapeseed oil

Spring in the mid-Atlantic regions of North America brings a fleeting delight – Fiddlehead ferns. Fiddleheads are foraged much like morels. Their name, like the curled edge (the scroll) of an actual fiddle, remind me of not only eating them as a kid, but also the fun I had playing the violin and viola in junior high and high school. But most importantly they remind me of my connection to this locale, this place. They are from here. Not shipped from elsewhere. So many other fruits and vegetables produced here compete in the aisle with produce from somewhere else. Not these.

In New England and the eastern provinces of Canada fiddlehead fans scoop them off the shelves and from vegetable stands as soon as they come to market. In fact I went to three grocery stores, three small fruit and vegetable stands and it was only at the seventh place I visited, that I found them. A few of the grocery stores said that they ordered them, but they were ‘shorted’ on the order. There wasn’t enough to go around. Demand for these nutty ferns is high in these parts.  They are nature’s limited time offer and fans of these curly cues know it. Accordingly they don’t mess around.

a bowl of fiddlehead ferns

Fiddlehead ferns, steamed then sautéd.

Spicy Fiddlehead Fern Recipe
Recipe type: Side Dish
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 20 mins
Serves: 3
Fiddleheads are high in Omega 3, 6, iron and potassium. I prefer to steam rather than boil them because it retains their nutrients and flavour. Be aware that the high temperature of steaming may darken the fiddleheads. Steaming and then sautéing with garlic, green onions, chilli flakes, salt, pepper, and a splash of lemon juice makes a quick side dish. To clean fiddleheads, first rinse them thoroughly in a colander. Then with your fingers, pull out any brownish stuff along the edge of the coil. Rinse again and slice off any brown bits from the stem. Fiddleheads go well with anything you would eat with spinach, green beans or asparagus. They have a nutty, earthy flavour. I like it spicy, but you can easily adjust the spice level by reducing the amount of garlic and the chilli flakes you use. The lemon juice and grapeseed oil bring out the grassy fresh flavour in them. Inspiration for this recipe comes from my mother’s steamed spinach and Emeril Lagasse’s Fiddlehead and Angel Hair Pasta.
  • 1 lb fiddleheads
  • 2 green onions finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic pressed
  • 1 tbsp red chilli flakes
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  1. Clean the fiddleheads (see the headnotes).
  2. Use a pot large enough for your steamer to fit on top of. Fill it half way with water and bring to a boil.
  3. Layer the fiddleheads evenly in the steamer. Place the covered steamer over the pot of boiling water. Steam until the fiddleheads are tender, but not limp – about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. While the water is boiling and the fiddleheads steaming, wash and finely chop two green onions and press 3 cloves of garlic.
  5. Put a pan on medium heat, pour about 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil onto the pan. Throw the green onions and pressed garlic into the pan, and stir frequently.
  6. Add the steamed fiddleheads and the chilli flakes.
  7. Sauté for about 5 minutes on medium heat stirring often. Make sure the garlic, onions and chilli flakes do not stick to the bottom of the pan by stirring and add more extra virgin olive oil if it begins to stick.
  8. Reduce the heat to medium low. Sauté for another 3-5 minutes or until soft. During this time, add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sample it before and after adding. Add the lemon juice. Taste again to make sure they are done. They are done when tender yet slightly firm like cooked green beans. Remove from heat.
  9. Drizzle 3 tbsp of grapeseed oil and mix in well. Serve.
Serving size: 1/4 lb Calories: 362 Fat: 32 g Saturated fat: 4 g : 5 g Sugar: 563 mg Fiber: 3 g Protein: 9 g Cholesterol: 0
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fiddle head ferns with red chilli pepper flakes