Ramps may tend to steal the spotlight as the most lusted-after spring delicacy, but one of the first — not to mention most unusual — veggies to pop from the ground at the end of winter are crunchy, intriguingly coiled fiddlehead ferns. Tasting like a cross between asparagus and young spinach, the tightly wound fern tips appear at the very beginning of spring. Harvested before they reach their full height and unroll into a leafy new frond, they’re mainly obtained (in relatively small quantities) by foragers; which is why you’ll only find them at farm stands or grocers like Whole Foods, as well as, of course, a few seasonally-focused restaurants.
One of the first establishments in New York to boast fiddleheads on their menu this spring is the Michelin-starred Piora, currently serving Colorado Rack of Lamb with sauteed, chili flake-spiked ferns, plated over an earthy heirloom carrot puree. And Ravi DeRossi’s Avant Garden — part of his now entirely vegan bar and restaurant group — has managed to obtain a sizable supply too; look for them tossed with white asparagus, spring onions and yellowfoot mushrooms and ladled over lemon-poppy seed basmati rice.
If you’re lucky, you might find yourself at Dirt Candy when their Foragers Salad is available, comprised of esoteric finds like wisteria, artemesia, pickled knotweed and of course, oh so fleeting fiddleheads. And hope that Evan Strusinski — Tom Colicchio’s go-to forager — is successful on his quest for Colicchio & Sons, when he goes to gather ferns for a Roasted Duck dish, paired with hon shimeji mushrooms and carrots.
Not that Manhattan’s completely cornered the market on fiddleheads. Bushwick’s newest Basque spot, Maite, uses them as a bed for Florida Grouper, complimented with sweet potatoes and apple aioli, and over at the restaurant/movie house, Syndicated, chef Bret Macris might have come up with the most compelling fiddlehead creation of all; battered, fried and served straight up, with a meyer lemon mayo for dipping.
So unless you happen to stumble upon them in the woods, how do you select prime fiddlehead specimens from the farmers market? Look for bright green shoots with tightly coiled tops. You want only 1 to 2 inches of stem attached to the coil; anything longer should be snapped off and discarded. Shortly after harvest, fiddleheads start to turn brown, drying out on the ends and turning mushy in the coils.
If you need to store them, wrap fiddleheads lightly in plastic wrap and keep chilled; although you really should use as soon as possible due to their supremely delicate nature. To prepare, rinse fiddleheads in several changes of cold water, in order to remove any dirt or grit. (Fiddleheads should be at least lightly cooked, as they can carry a food-borne illness that can cause stomach upset if eaten in large quantities. But don’t let that deter you. Just wash them well!)
Since they’re so special, it’s best to use a light hand with fiddleheads; blanch them first to retain their color, then incorporate into a simple saute with other seasonal treats, such as asparagus, morel mushrooms and yes, ramps, or fold them into an egg dish, such as an omelet, benedict or soufflé. You can float them on top of soup or toss into risotto, pasta or salads, or take a tip from the Koreans, and use them in bibimbap. Fiddleheads are also popular in Thailand, where they’re found in green curry, and well as Indonesia, coated in lemongrass and turmeric-infused coconut milk. And to best take advantage of the woefully short season, you can always pickle them, for delicious access to fiddleheads the whole year through!
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Colicchio & Sons
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