What Are Fiddleheads?
Fiddleheads are the tightly coiled tips of ferns. The fiddleheads in North America we eat are usually from the ostrich fern. They are available only in early spring, when ferns grow their new shoots. The young fern fronds are mainly available by foraging (other ferns can be toxic, so never forage without an experienced guide.).
What Do Fiddleheads Taste Like?
Fiddleheads have a grassy, spring-like flavor with a hint of nuttiness. Many people agree that they taste like a cross between asparagus and young spinach. Some detect an artichoke flavor as well, and even a bit of mushroom.
Where to Find Fiddleheads
Foraging for fiddleheads is a favorite spring activity in many areas where they grow. If you're not a forager, fiddleheads can be found at some farmers markets or grocery stores with a wild product section. Still coming up short? Marx Foods ships wild produce (at a cost!) across the country.
Look for bright green specimens with tightly coiled tops. You want only 1 to 2 inches of stem attached to the coil. Anything longer should be snapped off and discarded. Shortly after harvest, fiddleheads start to turn brown, drying out on the ends and turning mushy in the coils.
Preparing and Storing Fiddleheads
Rinse fiddleheads in several changes of cold water, removing any dirt or grit, before using. Fiddleheads are delicate items that quickly loose their bright flavor and crisp texture. Use them as soon as possible after harvest to experience the best taste and texture. If you need to store them, wrap fiddleheads lightly in plastic wrap and keep chilled.
Fiddleheads should be at least lightly cooked (some authorities recommend they be completely cooked). Raw fiddleheads can carry food-borne illness and/or cause stomach upset if eaten in large quantities. Fiddleheads are tasty steamed or sautéed, and pair well with butter, lemon, in egg dishes, with hollandaise sauce, or in combination with their foraged brethren, morel mushrooms. Because of their short season, many fiddlehead fans like to pickle them to enjoy once the season passes.