Sautéed Fiddlehead Ferns

cooked fiddlehead ferns on blue plate

katyenka / Getty Images

  • Total: 19 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 9 mins
  • Servings: 4 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
257 Calories
3g Fat
46g Carbs
12g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 257
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 3g 4%
Saturated Fat 0g 1%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 1756mg 76%
Total Carbohydrate 46g 17%
Dietary Fiber 3g 11%
Protein 12g
Calcium 74mg 6%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

This simple sautée is an easy way to bring out the fresh flavor of fiddlehead ferns. The savory richness of golden garlic, should you choose to use it, highlights their naturally grassy flavor.

As always with sautéing, heat the pan first and then add the oil or butter to coat the pan before tossing in the ferns. You may be tempted to cook them just a bit and keep them crisp but know that fully cooking fiddleheads reduces the chance of food poisoning from these wild-grown delicacies.


  • 1 pound fiddlehead ferns
  • 1 clove garlic or 1 small shallot
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons butter, or vegetable oil

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Trim the fiddlehead ferns, removing any brown ends or mushy parts. Rinse them clean in cool water. Only do this right before cooking them—the added moisture will make these delicate fronds spoil if done too far ahead of time.

  3. If using the garlic or shallot, peel it and slice it very thinly. Don't chop or mince them: slicing and ending up with bigger pieces will keep their pungent aroma from overwhelming the delicate flavor of these pretty ferns. 

  4. In a large pot, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add the salt and the cleaned fiddleheads. Cook for 1 minute.

  5. Drain and rinse with cold water until the fiddleheads cool off (or dunk them in a bowl of ice water to cool them).

  6. Drain them and lay them out on layers of paper towels to pat them dry. This process of blanching removes the bitter edge of fiddleheads and helps reduce the potential for foodborne illness.

  7. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the blanched fiddleheads. Cook, stirring frequently, until they start to brown on the edges, about 5 minutes (longer if they aren't blanched).

  8. Add the garlic or shallots, if you like, and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant and just starting to color, about 1 minute.

  9. Salt to taste and serve immediately.


Raw or undercooked fiddlehead ferns have been shown to cause illness. Some health officials recommend boiling your fiddleheads for at least 15 minutes before sauteeing to help reduce this risk.


  • Always look for fiddleheads that are green and bright with minimal browning on the edges.
  • Unless you forage for them yourself, this is tricky, but know that significantly browned or soft fiddleheads will be more bitter than grassy with their delicate grassy flavor overwhelmed by a vague muddiness.
  • Everyone must choose for themselves of course, but it seems better to forego fiddleheads entirely than to bother with ones that are half-spoiled, especially since they are often quite expensive. Sadly, one all too often sees specialty markets selling sub-par fiddlehead ferns—as much mushy brown edges as bright green delight—at truly premium prices.

Recipe Variations

  • If you like spice, toss in a few red pepper flakes or a bit of chopped fresh green chili—the right amount can complement the grassy flavor of fiddleheads quite nicely.
  • Garnish these springtime ferns with a sprinkle of a gently flavored spring herb, such as chervil, dill or mint.
  • Add a small dollop of crème fraîche or plain yogurt alongside the ferns.
  • Spritz on a bit of lemon juice before serving or grate a bit of lemon zest over them instead.
Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food Safety Tips for Fiddleheads. Government of Canada website. Updated May 6, 2015. Accessed June 8, 2020.