When I hear the word forage it conjures up images of Euell Gibbons of Stalking the Wild Asparagus fame walking for miles in wilderness areas in search of the elusive plant he is intent on finding. Which is why when I use the word foraging and fiddleheads in the same breath it feels a little bit laughable. You see, if I wanted to, I could go and pick fiddleheads at this moment in my pyjamas. They grow that close to the house – a meander down the walkway, a sharp right towards the brook, a short downhill slope and voilà!
My second confession about foraging for fiddleheads is that I am really not a big fan of this first edible wild plant to sprout. I find it bland. It tastes herbaceous, a bit like I imagine grass would taste if steamed. So this year I have set myself the mission of seeing once again if I can find anything about it that warrants the picking and cleaning and cooking.
Fiddleheads (Ostrich Ferns) before they unfurl are encased in a brown paper-like leaf that needs to be removed. I have found the best way to do this is to bounce them up and down in a basket and let the wind carry them away. They are then ready to be rinsed and this usually takes a least two rinsings. After they have been cleaned they are ready to be
boiled or steamed. They must be well cooked to remove the tannins and any microbes present. I was taught to cook them in two changes of water and you will quickly see why. The cooking water turns quite black. Health Canada advises boiling them for 15 minutes or steaming them for 10 to 12 minutes.
I used to just boil the fiddleheads and then add salt and pepper and a little lemon, but I am thinking that the extra step of sautéing might be what takes these wild edibles from bland to enjoyable for me.
My first test with sautéing them after cooking involved adding some ginger and wild garlic leaves. I threw in a little Hoisin sauce for good measure.
The Verdict: The ginger, garlic and Hoisin were delicious but tasted oddly weird on the just picked fronds.
On to taste test two. This time I have decided to steam the fronds. Health Canada advises to steam for 10 to 12 minutes. I decided on the longer cooking time although I think 10 minutes would have been fine. The final sautéing step involved placing them in a frying pan with about a tablespoon of melted butter.
A quick sauté, some added salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon and I called them done.
The Verdict: These were the best fiddleheads I have had to date. The butter added a little extra flavour and the fronds had a fresh green taste. I have to say the appeal for me is that these are the first edible green plants to make an appearance and I feel so ready to begin eating fresh and local again.
Whether delicious or bland is your verdict no one can dispute that they contain omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and are a source of antioxidants and dietary fiber. Enjoy!