Sautéed Fiddlehead Ferns Recipe

Sautéed fiddlehead ferns on a blue plate with a fork

Katyenka / Getty Images

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 30 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Yield: 1 pound
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
86 Calories
3g Fat
16g Carbs
1g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 86
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 3g 4%
Saturated Fat 2g 9%
Cholesterol 8mg 3%
Sodium 2840mg 123%
Total Carbohydrate 16g 6%
Dietary Fiber 5g 17%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 36mg 179%
Calcium 20mg 2%
Iron 0mg 3%
Potassium 78mg 2%
*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 sauté is an easy way to bring out the fresh flavor of fiddlehead ferns, which are the tightly coiled ends of fern leaves. This delicacy has a very short season, from mid-April to early May, and can have a high price tag. When selecting fiddleheads, it's important to only use those from the ostrich fern, which is the variety available in North America, as other types are toxic. There may be a trace amount of toxins in ostrich fiddleheads that can cause foodborne illness; however, blanching and cooking them fully will reduce the chance of food poisoning as well as decrease the amount of bitterness in these wild-grown delicacies.

Simple is best when cooking fiddleheads so you can fully enjoy this unique springtime vegetable. This recipe calls for just fiddleheads, garlic, salt, and butter, and the savory richness of the garlic highlights the fiddleheads' grassy flavor.

"This was an excellent way to enjoy the unique flavor of fiddleheads, and it was very easy. After boiling for 15 minutes, I sautéed my fiddleheads for about 4 minutes with a sliced shallot. They were delicious with a drizzle of apple cider vinegar." —Diana Rattray

Sauteed fiddlehead ferns in a white bowl
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • Kosher salt, as needed

  • 1 pound fiddlehead ferns

  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, or vegetable oil

  • 1 clove garlic, or small shallot, thinly sliced

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.

  3. Trim fiddlehead ferns, removing any brown ends or mushy parts. Rinse in cool water. Do this just before cooking—the added moisture will make these delicate fronds spoil if done too far in advance.

  4. Transfer the fiddleheads to the water and boil until tender, about 15 minutes.

  5. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool, or shock in a bowl of ice water to cool, then drain.

  6. Arrange in a single layer on clean kitchen towels or paper towels. Pat dry.

  7. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it melts. Add the fiddleheads. Cook, stirring frequently, until they start to brown on the edges, about 4 minutes.

  8. Add the garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Salt to taste and serve.


Raw or undercooked fiddlehead ferns have been shown to cause illness. Health officials recommend boiling your fiddleheads for at least 15 minutes or steaming for 10 to 15 minutes before sautéing to help reduce this risk.


  • Always look for fiddleheads that are green and bright with minimal browning on the edges; significantly browned or soft fiddleheads will be more bitter, with the delicate grassy flavor overwhelmed by a vague muddiness. Because fiddleheads are often quite expensive, it's better to forego fiddleheads entirely than to bother with ones that are half-spoiled. Unfortunately, you may find subpar fiddlehead ferns at specialty markets selling at truly premium prices.
  • To clean fiddleheads, trim the cut brown ends then rinse. Put the fiddleheads in a large bowl or container filled with cold water. Swish them around, drain off the water, and repeat several times until the water fiddleheads look clean and the water is clear.
  • Do not chop or mince the garlic or shallot, as these aromatics are more pungent when cut into small pieces, which will overwhelm the delicate flavor of these pretty ferns. 
  • Although you may be tempted to cook the fiddleheads just until crisp-tender, it is important to blanch and then cook them fully to eliminate any presence of toxins and remove bitterness.

Recipe Variations

  • If you like spice, toss in a few red pepper flakes or a bit of chopped fresh green chile; the right amount can complement the grassy flavor of fiddleheads quite nicely.
  • Drizzle the cooked fiddleheads with apple cider vinegar.
  • Garnish these springtime ferns with a sprinkle of a mild 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.

How Can You Identify Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads?

An ostrich fern fiddlehead has a deep, u-shaped groove on the inside of the stem. The coiled heads emerge with a paper-like covering and are not fuzzy.

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.