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FIDDlEHEAD FERNS COOKING

What exactly are fiddle head ferns, and how should I prepare, cook, and serve them?
Richard V ignola, San Francisco, CA



Jasper White replies:
Fiddlehead ferns are tender young ferns (bracken is the most common variety) that have yet to uncurl. They're one of the first spring vegetables to appear each year, and until recently they were only foraged for, not cultivated. Their flavor resembles that of asparagus.

To prepare fiddleheads, you must remove the protective layer of light brown fuzz and give them a preliminary cooking to tenderize them. I've found that repeated soaking, followed by blanching twice in boiling salted water, is the best way to perform these two chores. Put the fiddleheads in a large pot or bowl of cold water and s tir until the brown coating begins to come off. Change the water and repeat the process a few times until most of the fuzz is gone. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fiddleheads and blanch for about a minute. A lot of the brown fuzz will rise to the top of the pot. Skim it off, drain the fiddleheads, and rinse under cold water. Rinse out the pot, fill it again with salted water, and return to a boil. Blanch the fiddleheads until tender (three to four minutes) ; drain and rinse under cold water. Check each piece, removing by hand what did not come off in the water. The fiddleheads are now ready to use.

To serve fiddleheads, I recommend seasoning them with salt and pepper and sauteing them in olive oil over mediumhigh heat until golden brown, five to six minutes. They're also excellent when sauteed with diced onions or shallots or sliced leeks. Another delicious combination would be to saute the fiddleheads with ramps (wild leeks) and morels (which fern-pickers often come across while foraging) . Fiddleheads are also an excellent addition to vegetable soups and stews. Add them in the last few minutes of cooking.



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