Ah, fiddleheads. One of the more mysterious wild spring vegetables. They are the fresh new shoots of a few particular species of ferns, and their cool shape and crunchy, slightly slippery texture and “green” taste make them one of the most sought-after spring wild edibles.
This is not a post about identifying fiddleheads, although I can tell you that you need to find the fiddleheads from ostrich fern in the East, Midwest and Canada, and lady fern everywhere. And remember: Most ferns put up fiddleheads, which are a structure, not a species. You must find the right fiddleheads.
We only have lady fern fiddleheads here in California. They’re OK, but not as good as the Eastern ostrich fern fiddlehead. If you are east of the Great Plains, you can often buy them in farmer’s markets. Sometimes you can see them in ritzy supermarkets like Whole Foods.
However you get your fiddleheads, you will want to highlight them. Their season only lasts a few weeks, and you’ll want to savor your fiddleheads while they’re around. (Although you can pickle fiddleheads to eat later in the year.)
This Chinese stir fry hits the spot.
It’s all about the fiddleheads, although there’s a healthy amount of shredded pork in there for good measure (vegetarians, sub in mushrooms like morels). It’s light, with no heavy, goopy sauce to hide the flavors of the fiddleheads and other vegetables in the bowl. Serve it with simple steamed rice and you’ll be in business.
- 2 teaspoons corn starch
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 egg white
- 1 pound pork loin, cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks
- 2 cups vegetable oil, (peanut if possible)
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 1/2 to 1 pound fiddleheads
- 1/4 pound daylily buds or green beans
- 1/4 cup ramps, wild onions or scallions, sliced on the diagonal
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (black is OK, too)
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl, then mix well with the shredded pork, making sure each piece is nicely coated. Set aside at room temperature while you chop the vegetables. Mix all the ingredients for the sauce together in another bowl.
- Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan to about 275°F -- not too hot. Working with about 1/4 of the pork at a time, fry the meat in the hot oil for 30 to 45 seconds, just to set the coating. Move to a plate and repeat with the rest of the pork. When you're done, remove all but about 3 tablespoons of the oil. (You can strain and reuse the oil 2 or 3 more times.)
- Heat the remaining oil in the wok over very high heat on your hottest burner. When the oil is thinking about smoking, add the fiddleheads. Stir fry them until you get a little char on the edges of the fiddleheads, about 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add the daylily buds or green beans and stir fry another minute. Add the garlic and sliced green onions and stir fry 1 more minute. Finally, stir the sauce well so you get the corn starch (which will have settled to the bottom of the bowl) and pour it into the stir fry. Cook another 30 seconds or so and serve at once.
You can switch up the meat if you want. Chicken, wild turkey, grouse, quail, partridge -- even fish and shellfish -- are all good alternates. I'd stick to light colored meats here, but you could do duck or venison if that floats your boat.