I live around the corner from a pretty amazing market. A place where six different varieties of eggplant happily cohabitate with mounds of garlic chives, where buckets of freshly made tofu sit chilling not far away from briny, sea-water oysters. This time of year, with such a bounty of produce, is a superb season to experiment, experience new flavors. Whenever I see something at the market I have yet to try, something that peaks my interest, I have to give it (or them in this case) a shot.
I had read a lot about Fiddlehead Ferns in cooking books and magazines, but here in California, these beauties, scavenged in the wild by foragers, were only culinary lore. I never had seen them at any grocer’s or farmer’s market. So when I saw them at the market, curled up tightly like a porcine tail, I just had to buy a passel to bring them home and cook some delightful side dish.
From my reading I knew this was a vegetable that had to be cooked. The curl is inedible, making the eater sick when ingested raw. So I guessed a giant salad of fiddleheads would be out, unless I really was not fond of my fellow diners. But I wanted a simple dish, optimally displaying the fiddleheads, and decided on a simple saute. With sliced shallots, some olive oil, a dab of butter, and salt and pepper, I sauteed the fiddleheads until softened. Then I added some corn, freshly sliced from the cob, and flash sauteed, for a bourgie succotash of sorts.
And what did it taste like? Fiddleheads have a flavor that is almost indescribable. Delicate and subtle, I noticed the texture more than the actual flavor. They tasted of moss, and the woods, with a flavor slightly akin to asparagus. But it was the shape that was most pleasing to me. The curl of the fern unfurls a bit upon cooking, making a wobbly, circular shape. One that is unlike anything I have eaten in nature.
The corn was sweet, the shallots gave the dish a subtle oniony tinge, but would I make fiddleheads again? Probably not, or at least not this same way. The fiddleheads were beautiful, there is something appealing about looking down at your plate and seeing an unusual snail-like object waiting to be gobbled up. But is novelty really enough? For me, I think it is probably not.