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Fiddleheads are really just baby ferns. Most of the ones growing in Alaska have this papery brown coating that must be cleaned off before cooking. If you live where ostrich ferns are plentiful, you are fortunate. They're "naked", meaning that they don't have that coating, and you will be spared many hours of work. Cleaning fiddleheads is simple, but slow. Everybody cleans them differently, but I've found that keeping them dry works best. I use a scrubber sponge --- one of those rough, green pads used to clean pots and pans. Just lightly rub each side of the fiddlehead with the sponge. You don't have to get off every little paper scale. Just do the best you can. These recipes can also be used for broccoli, cauliflower or asparagus.

See the pictures for what to pick. They should still be coiled up, like the head of a fiddle. If they are starting to open, just leave them. Fiddleheads must be cooked before eating. If you eat lots of raw fiddleheads, they will deplete your body of thiamine. If you've ever tasted a raw fiddlehead, you will not want to eat many of them that way. But cooked ---- now that's another story!

Batter Fried Fiddleheads

This recipe makes enough for a crowd. You could cut the recipe in half, but once you taste them with a sprinkle of my seasoning mix, you'll wish you had made a double batch!

Blanch 2 quarts of freshly picked and cleaned fiddleheads. Do this by dropping them all at once into rapidly boiling water. I put a lid on the pot and time it for 1 minute, then strain out the water. Set aside to cool while you make the batter.

3 cups rice flour --- wheat flour will work, but they won't be as crisp. Also, rice flour contains no gluten.

2 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup powdered eggs

3 Tablespoons melted lard or butter

about 2 1/2 to 3 cups water

(note: if you like, use 4 fresh eggs instead of egg powder, and decrease the water to about 1 1/2 cups)

Sift together the dry ingredients because egg powder tends to be lumpy. But if you are using fresh eggs, just stir together the flour, salt and pepper. Next, stir in the lard or butter, and gradually stir in the water (and eggs, if you're using fresh ones). The batter should be somewhat thick. You can add more flour or water to get the preferred consistency. Fry up a few as a test, then adjust the batter. We prefer a thicker batter.

Use whatever kind of fat you like for frying. Heat it to about 350 degrees F. Stir a batch of fiddleheads into the batter. Spoon into the hot grease and fry until they float and are lightly browned. If you use rice flour, it will take a bit longer to brown, but they will be nice and crunchy! Drain on paper towels. Fry up another batch. Sprinkle with salt or my seasoning mix, below. These are also good dipped in a mixture of equal parts prepared mustard and highbush cranberry catsup (recipe will be in the Sept/Oct issue of Frontier Freedom).

Seasoning Mix for Fiddleheads or French Fries

(I like to keep this on hand to season lots of things)

Mix together in a jar:

3 Tablespoons salt

1 1/2 Tablespoon onion powder

1 Tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon ascorbic acid powder (vitamin C - available in health food stores)
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