Tuesday, May 5, 2009

If Music Be the Food of Love....

It's fiddlehead time! Isn't it fitting that the region that gave us that wild fiddle music should also be the spiritual home to the humble vegetable we call fiddlehead? Fiddleheads (têtes de violon in French) are now available worldwide thanks to Atlantic Canada, the largest exporting region of these little green beauties.

Fiddleheads can be picked all over North America, and depending which area you live in, you will be picking a different species of fern. Since I have no idea which one you should be picking, I will only suggest that you buy your fiddleheads at the market or the greengrocer. Most edible ferns in North America have little dried brown bits stuck to the stems: these do not have to be removed, but you should wash the fidlleheads in 2-3 changes of water to get rid of any dirt or bugs. Trim off the browned cut end, and you're ready to get cooking.

I know that nutritionists everywhere say that vegetables should never be cooked in contact with water, but it's all balderdash: some vegetables have to cooked in water, otherwise they will be inedible. Most bitter vegetables are made more palatable when cooked in lots of water. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and dump in your fiddleheads. It takes at least 7 minutes to cook, sometimes more. Take a sharp and pointy knife to poke the thickest part of the fiddlehead's stem, if the knife slips in and out easily, it's cooked. Immediately immerse the veg in cold water to stop the cooking. (I realise that this cooking method uses large quantities of water, but it need not be a waste: if you let the cooking water cool down, it is great for watering houseplants or your garden. In fact, if you keep all your cooking water -unsalted pasta water too- for your plants, you probably won't need to use fertilisers ever again. You can also use you veg washing and cooling waters on your plants.)

You could eat the fiddleheads as is with some mayo, but that would be a little bland. In a fry pan, melt some butter and add some finely chopped shallots or onions. When cooked, add the boiled fiddleheads, give it a toss, season with salt and pepper, and you've got a lovely side dish.

I think it goes without saying that boiled fiddleheads can also be battered up and made into delicious fritters or tempura -is there anything that isn't scrumptious when deep fried?

If you've ever been in Chinatown or an Asian grocery and wondered why they had piles of fiddleheads in the frozen section, it's because ferns are also eaten in some regions of China and Japan. I'm not sure they are consumed elsewhere however. Ferns in Japan are a real springtime delicacy: country inns and all sort of tourist stops have special wild food menus that feature fern bracken and wild garlic in the springtime. Asian ferns are nothing like North American fiddleheads, but it would seem that they are used interchangeably: Asian forests cannot supply enough wild foods for the teeming millions of aficionados.

Makes me wonder why we aren't more appreciative of our wild abundance....

Bon app'!


2 comments:

  1. We are hoping to forage our own this spring...and CAN them. Fingers crossed we don't miss them as we are away for the month of May.

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  2. They might be up earlier in Ontario... Maybe you can forage for them before you go away!

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