Fiddleheads are the gateway for many novice foragers. Easy to recognize, easy to pick, and oh so charming with their dainty curly-cues. In texture, fiddleheads most resemble green beans, but for taste think of something more like endive or asparagus — fresh, green and pleasantly bitter. Fiddleheads are the toddler stage of our local ferns, and the most commonly picked varieties come from the lady fern and the shield fern. The downside to these two species of fern is that typically their fiddleheads are covered in brown papery husks that must be cleaned off before cooking. It’s a tedious task and most foragers waver between a zen-like meditative respect for the process and a to-hell-with-it-I’m-never-picking-these-things-again position.
But they’re just so dang pretty.
We’re on the tail end of fiddlehead time in Juneau, but there are still some colder pockets of town where you can find one or two tucked into the base of a more mature fern. Periodically fiddleheads also come up for sale at local markets or on the newly established online marketplace Salt & Soil Marketplace.
For me, fiddleheads signal the start of our longer days, hopefully sundrenched, when we’re all itching to get outside and wear sandals, even if our toes think it’s still a little too cold. The most popular way to prepare fiddleheads is to simply saute them with butter and garlic. What follows is a variation on that theme. The breadcrumbs give a delicious crunch and the mustard, lemon and egg yolk make for a creamy tart compliment to the fiddleheads’ natural bitterness. Enjoy with a brat or a fillet of your favorite fish hot off the grill.
Fiddleheads with Garlic Breadcrumbs
Prep: 25 minutes
1 thick slice bread, finely diced
5 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tsp mustard
4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 egg yolk
Salt & pepper to taste
1 pound fiddleheads (about 4 cups)
½ cup water (or white wine)
The breadcrumbs: The easiest way to make the breadcrumbs is to cube a thick slice of bread and toss it in a food processor and pulse a couple of times. But that seems like a lot of mess for a little recipe like this, so I just cut a piece into cubes and then chop and chop with my knife, almost like I’m mincing garlic. You want it to be fresh bread so it really crunches up with the toasty olive oil and garlic. I used a slice from one of Wild Oven’s delicious sourdough loaves, but this works fine with any kind of fresh bread. It might be more accurate to say that you’re making tiny croutons, rather than breadcrumbs, so don’t worry about getting the bread chopped to a grain size.
Heat up 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread. Cook until golden brown, stirring regularly, about 4-5 minutes. Add in the garlic and continue to stir and cook until everything is a deep brown, another 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
The dressing: Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, the mustard, the lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Set aside.
The fiddleheads: Clean fiddleheads, discarding any mushy ones. Give each fiddlehead stem a little trim to clean up the stalk, but be sure not to cut off too much since this is most of what you’ll be eating! In the pan you used for the breadcrumbs, add the water and fiddleheads. Cover and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Remove the lid and cook until water has evaporated and fiddleheads start to brown, 4-5 minutes. When you’re done the fiddleheads should still have some crunch to them.
Turn off the heat, and pour the dressing over the fiddleheads. Add in most of the breadcrumbs and toss to coat. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve fiddleheads topped with shaved parmesan and the remaining breadcrumbs.
Erin Anais Heist is a food blogger in Juneau. Readers can contact her at foodabe.com, or on Instagram or Twitter at @erinanais. “Eating Wild” recipes publish every other week.