There is no surer sign of Spring on the East Coast than fiddleheads. The edible shoots from the ostrich fern start popping up in the markets in Spring and last but a few weeks. Similar to asparagus in taste, you can pretty much put them in anything. Blanched for a salad, pureed in soup, thrown in a pasta or simply sautéd with bacon and garlic. Oh, and pickled, a perfect way to preserve the short fiddlehead season for months to come. Throw one of those in your Caesar and suddenly, game changer.
Now, there’s a lot of information out there like even the Canadian gov on how to properly clean, store and cook fiddleheads since they have been known to cause some pretty intense food poisoning. Now, I’ll be honest. They’ve never made me sick nor do I take any extra special precautions. I do buy from reputable farms who clean and rinse the crap out of them like my man Pelley of Fiddle Hop Farm. They never last more than a day or two so storage isn’t an issue. But when cooking them I certainly do not boil or steam them for the recommended 12-15 minutes. Mushy vegetables are the last thing I’m going to eat and the reason why I think a lot of people hate vegetables like asparagus or brussel sprouts. Tender crisp is where it’s at. So a quick blanch then some frying should do the trick. But if you’re weary, boil those suckers for as long as you see fit.
Come Spring we generally pair those fiddleheads with a good dose of butter and bacon because what can’t be made awesome with butter and bacon. I mean really. But this season, we wanted to shake things up and hit those ferns with something new. Lately, I’ve been getting into Thai and Asian cooking. There is just something about how they balance flavour. Sweet, spicy, bitter, umami, and sour are all invited to the party. It’s a nice change from the bland or overtly sweet and greasy food we’re known for here on the East.
Inspired by the cookbook Pok Pok, from the restaurant in Portland, Oregan of the same name, I decided to pair the fiddleheads with chiles, garlic, and shrimp paste, the basis of many a Thai dish. Add to that crispy fried shallots and you’ve got a killer Spring side dish. With but a few ingredients and less than 10 minutes, this couldn’t be easier. Plus, if you opt to buy crispy fried shallots at the Asian grocer – and you do – you can even skip that step. Though you’ll then have to try to stop yourself from eating the whole bag.
With another bag of fiddleheads in the fridge, we’re thinking Chinese next. Spring is some delicious.
- 4 tablespoons oil (not olive)
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 3 cups fiddleheads, well rinsed
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced
- 3 Thai red chiles, roughly chopped
- 1-2 teaspoons shrimp paste*
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- sea salt
- In a mortar and pestle, pound the chiles, garlic and shrimp paste until a rough paste forms.
- Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, bring water to a boil over high heat. Blanch the fiddleheads about 4 minutes. Drain.
- Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Fry the shallots til golden brown and crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towel. (Alternatively, if you have crispy fried shallots, skip this step and heat half as much oil). Add the paste and fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the fiddleheads and sugar and stir fry until the fiddleheads are still tender crisp, about 4 min. If you like your fiddleheads well done or are concerned for your safety, cook them as long as you need. Season to taste with salt which will depend on the brand of shrimp paste you use. Mine isn't very salty so I added a good dose of sea salt.
- *I like my Thai fishy so I load up on shrimp paste. Start with 1 teaspoon if you're weary.
- I thought the sugar brought it all together but feel free to omit it.