Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Featured Ingredient : Fiddleheads


      I never knew what these are. I must've seen them a hundred times without ever once figuring it out. They look like alien pods of some kind. As if I could throw a pack of them into water and they would grow into a small army of aliens. If you live in New England you most likely have seen these in the supermarket May-July or possibly spotted some in your local wild. Fiddleheads are actually not alien pods but young "ostrich fern" (Matteuccia struthiopteris)  fronds. Given the name because of the resemblance to scroll shaped top of a fiddle or violin. A traditional dish in Quebec and the Martimes, Fiddleheads are a delicacy that Northern (and most southern) New Englanders and few others find in the wild. With a flavor somewhere between asparagus, okra and artichoke with a hint of nuttiness they are good for you and full of trace vitamins and minerals. Fiddleheads are very low in cholesterol and sodium and a very good source of protein, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, iron and more. 
     If you spot some in the wild there's a bit you should know before you dine. You need to pick them during a two week window when they are bright green before the fern unfurls about an inch or two from the ground. Definitely make sure you know what an edible fiddlehead looks like before you chow down because some ferns can be poisonous. Fiddleheads can be identified by the brown papery covering on the uncoiled fern, as well as the smooth fern stem, and the deep ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the stem. Look for ostrich ferns emerging in clusters of about three to twelve each on the banks of rivers, streams, and brooks April though July. Once you've harvest a reasonable take, brush out and trim the brown ends off the stalks. Fiddleheads start to brown and become dry shortly after harvest so cook them up asap. Boil the fiddle“heads” in a small amount of salted boiling water for ten minutes or you can steam them for 20 minutes. Butter, garlic and lemon are common for preparation. Now that you're up on fiddleheads you might want to consider dandelion greens (best when harvested before they bloom) or morels they all share the same foraging season. -K.C.C.


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