If you’ve ever looked at a fern and thought to yourself, “looks tasty,” you’re not the first to think so. Fiddleheads are the tightly curled fronds of fern plants before they shoot forth and open into the recognizable plant.
Harvested very early in the season, they are some of the first vegetables that we get to use in the restaurant. We usually receive the Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum, the King of the Northwestern Ferns – how noble) but occasionally you can find a species called Bracken as well. It’s important to note that if you are lucky enough to find a few of these at your farmers market, don’t just go popping them in your mouth like candy. First, it would probably be a little too green, crunchy and tough, but more importantly, they are mildly toxic unless you cook them first!
I find the best way to treat them is to trim off as little of the brown cut end as possible and then either blanch them in salted water for 3 to 5 minutes before ice bathing them, or steam them gently in a steamer. They are tender and delicate and should be treated with love.
For those of you not fortunate enough to have eaten fiddleheads before, you may be wondering, what the heck does a fern taste like?! Well, for me, I find they have a nice earthy green to them, similar to blanched kale, and if you char or sear them after blanching or steaming, they develop a really nice nutty quality to them. The texture is crunchy with almost an okra mouth coating feel, but not so pronounced. Because they are curled up, they have lots of little pockets to soak up sauces, butter, and vinaigrette, so they can be little flavour bombs in your dishes. We use them right now on our fiddlehead galette in the morning tossed in a ramp pesto and in the evening they are the base of our seared cod dish tossed in a fish fumet.
They can be used in so many different ways, tossed into a salad, dipped in hollandaise, as a side for any nice seared or grilled meat dishes, sauteed, steamed, blanched or charred, try them out! They are a fun and beautiful conversation starter around the dinner table.
Galette Batter (to be made the day before using):
210g Buckwheat Flour
2 C Water
2 Whole Eggs
1/2 tsp Salt
Whisk everything together and let sit overnight.
Walnut and Ramp Pesto:
2 Cloves Garlic, Microplaned
2 Whole Ramps
50g Toasted Walnuts
1 Lemon, Juice of
50g Extra Virgin Olive Oil
340g Canola Oil
Salt to taste
Put the first 7 ingredients together in a food processor or blender and pulse to roughly chop and mix. With the machine running, stream in your canola oil first, and then your olive oil. Be careful not to overprocess, as it can make the olive oil turn bitter. Season your mix to taste with salt and refrigerate until you need it. If you push plastic wrap directly onto the surface of your mix, it will help keep it bright green and fresh.
4 C Fiddleheads, blanched
100g to 200g of a triple cream style cheese (we use Delice du Bourgogne)
Walnut and Ramp Pesto
Put a pot of water on to simmer to poach your eggs in. Turn on your crepe maker to med-high and if you do not have a crepe skillet (who does, really?) a cast iron pan will do just fine as well. You may need to season your cast iron a few times with the galette batter until they stop sticking, but don’t get discouraged! We have to make about 2 or 3 every morning and scrape them right into the bin until its just right. A very thin layer of oil rubbed onto the skillet will help to keep them from sticking as well.
Once everything is assembled and your skillet is ready, start making your galettes. A 4 or 5 ounce ladle of batter per galette works well, and spread the batter as thin and quick as you can. Let the mixture cook for a few minutes before trying to lift your batter, and then fold over your edges to make a nice triangle. You can do any shape, really, or just leave it whole and flat, but if you want to make it like we do in the restaurant, fold those edges! Then transfer them onto your plates and keep them warm till serving. Alternately, you can always build this breakfast on toast and save a step - still delicious!
Next, heat a large pan on the oven over med-high heat and add a splash of canola oil. When it is nice and shimmery, carefully tip your fiddleheads into the pan to start to char and heat through. Is your poaching water still simmering? Good. Gently stir it to make a little movement in the water and crack your 4 eggs in to gently poach. Back to the fiddleheads. Give them a toss every minute or so until they are nice and hot and have picked up some color. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer them into a bowl with a few spoonfuls of your pesto. Give them a toss to coat and taste one. It may need a bit more salt and a bit of lemon juice to finish. Your eggs are probably ready now as well, so pull them from the water with a slotted spoon and set them on a towel to dry off a touch.
Now the assembly. Spoon some of the pesto around the base of your galette for a bit of extra sauce and flavour and mound your fiddleheads right in the centre of your triangle. Top them each with a poached egg and a nice thick slice of your cheese. Crack on some pepper and salt and garnish with a little salad if you like and there you have it! Your fiddlehead galette, ready to enjoy!