Fiddleheads Are Almost Here! Learn About This Rare and Delicious Spring Ingredient

It's almost May, which for many foragers means fiddleheads are coming. These are tightly coiled green ferns that emerge for only a few weeks in spring. Vermont is fiddlehead heaven; foragers head out into the fields in search of the elusive vegetable, carefully distinguishing between edible and poisonous varieties. Filled with antioxidants and asparagus flavor, these ferns make a delicious addition to spring dishes.

You can usually find fiddleheads at farmers' markets. Let experts do the collecting, since there are carcinogenic look-alikes in the wild. Once you've got a basketful of ferns though, how do you cook them?

Remove any "silk" from the outside of the ferns-just peel off the brown, papery husk. Wash the ferns to clean off any residual dirt. Dry them and get your pan ready.

Some controversy exists about how long to cook fiddleheads. Health Canada recommends boiling the ferns for 15 minutes or steaming them for 10-12 minutes to avoid any chance of gastrointestinal distress. Fiddlehead devotees claim that the best way to prepare fiddlehead ferns is to saute them in a little butter or olive oil-this preserves their crunchy texture and delicate, nutty flavor. Butter, lemon, garlic, basil, and morel mushroom are classic accompaniments.

To hear more about a chef searching for fiddleheads, listen to this NPR story. For another taste of spring, check out this recipe for spring-inspired crostini.

Photo: ctd 2005 on flickr