Sautéed Fiddlehead Ferns

cooked fiddlehead ferns on blue plate

katyenka / Getty Images

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 9 mins
Total: 19 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
257 Calories
3g Fat
46g Carbs
12g Protein
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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 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.

Ingredients

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

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

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

  5. Drain the fiddleheads and lay them out on layers of paper towels to pat them dry.

  6. In a large frying pan, heat the butter or oil over medium-high heat. Add the blanched fiddleheads. Cook, stirring frequently, until they start to brown on the edges, about 5 minutes.

  7. Add the garlic or shallot and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant and just starting to color, about 1 minute.

  8. Salt to taste and serve immediately.

Warning

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

Tips


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-safety-fruits-vegetables/fiddlehead-safety-tips.html