50+ Fiddlehead Recipes (Wild Foraged Spring Ferns) (2024)

The fiddlehead fern is a sought-after spring delicacy, and these fiddlehead recipes make the most of them in season. Fiddleheads often arrive along with other post-winter forages like morels and just before ramp season, leading to an ample amount of delicious spring dishes.

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Fiddlehead ferns are a beautiful spring edible with a crispy and veggie-like taste. The fiddlehead was granted its name due to its resemblance to the shape of a scrolled violin head.

Although the term fiddlehead fern is not exclusive (and multiple ferns are actually referred to by this name), most who use the term are referring to Matteuccia struthiopteris, the ostrich fern.

The ostrich fern can grow in USDA zones 2 to 7 but is most commonly found across the Northeast and Midwest in the U.S. and throughout most of Canada. There is a separate variety of fern that many forage along the West Coast, known as the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina). Although edible, they look slightly different from ostrich ferns and possess a less desirable flavor.

If you’re foraging your own, I’d suggest reading this guide to identifying fiddlehead ferns.

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Choosing the Best Fiddlehead

You’ll find fiddlehead ferns in forests and woodlands, often growing near creeks and streams. They favor partial shade and moist soil. Be wary of harvesting fiddleheads too close to roadsides – pollution and runoff make these plants extremely undesirable for cooking. Instead, once fiddleheads are sighted off a roadway, venture further into the woodland to source uncontaminated ferns.

The growing season begins in the spring after the danger of frost has ended. The ferns grow quickly and the edible season is short – just a few weeks every year, as once the ferns uncoil they are no longer edible.

When foraging for fiddlehead ferns, be sure the ferns you are foraging are indeed fiddleheads – eating other fern varieties will make you sick. Fiddlehead ferns have a distinctive U-shaped groove in the stem, similar to celery. Non-edible ferns will have a round, solid stem. Fuzzy stems are also a dead giveaway that the fern is not a fiddlehead and therefore not edible.

Fiddlehead ferns will also have a brown, papery coating. You’ll remove this parchment-like coating later before cooking. Coatings of any other color, including white or hairy coatings, mean the fern is not a fiddlehead.

Pick only new fronds for cooking, cutting them just as they are beginning to unfurl. Ferns that have already unfurled are not edible – instead, choose those that are still tightly coiled.

April to May is often the prime time for many when foraging for fiddleheads, but milder areas may see them as soon as March. You can snap fiddleheads off by hand or cut them with a knife.

Do not overharvest fiddlehead ferns as this can damage the plant. If the ferns are your own, harvest no more than half the fiddleheads from each crown. If you’re foraging on public land, pick no more than 10% and only pick one from each fern head.

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Fiddlehead Recipes

Once home, give fiddleheads a good rinse to remove any dirt, sand or debris, and remove what’s left of the papery, brown coating. Always cook fiddlehead ferns before consuming them. Eating them raw can lead to sickness. You can quickly blanch fiddleheads before adding to soups and salads, or braise, roast or sautee them among other cooking methods.

Fiddleheads possess a flavor most akin to asparagus, but others detect similar grassy notes like green beans and broccoli. You can use fiddleheads in many of the same dishes in which you would use asparagus, snow peas or green beans, making everything from omelets to side dishes, pasta and appetizers.

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Fiddlehead Soup and Salad Recipes

A large series of soups and salads can be made featuring fiddleheads. A simple cream of fiddlehead soup is a rustic choice, made from heavy cream, chicken broth, onions and garlic cloves. Another variation on this creamy soup calls for the inclusion of leeks and mushrooms. Cheesy fiddlehead soup is another sensational pick, embellished with Greek yogurt and cheddar cheese. More options include fiddlehead saffron soup and fiddlehead soup with fresh veggies and pesto.

You can pair fiddlehead soup with a complete meal like this full course of fiddlehead soup and grilled halibut or pair it with a simple salad. Include fiddleheads in a fern salad with mint or pair with dryad’s saddle and other wild shoots like milkweed and wood nettle. Try a nutty fiddlehead salad tossed in sesame dressing or sample a dairy-free potato salad with purple potatoes, eggs, and a vinaigrette. Just remember to always cook your fiddleheads first – even for cold dishes.

Fiddlehead Breakfast Recipes

Everyone could use a little more green in their breakfast – fiddleheads are one way to accomplish this task. Bake fiddleheads into a fluffy cheesy tart, adding leeks or ramps for even more flavor. Keep it eggy or go for an all-cheese recipe with a fiddlehead cheddar tart. A savory galette is another breakfast delight prime for sharing. Brimming with caramelized onions, cheese, eggs and mushrooms in a buttery crust, the smell of this baked comfort will delight your morning senses.

Fiddlehead frittatas, souffles, quiches and omelets are more spectacular opportunities for fiddleheads to impress. Consider pairing with elements like goat cheese, bacon, onion, ricotta, chives, morels and other mushrooms.

For quicker breakfast recipes, add cooked fiddleheads to toast or English muffins topped with a homemade cheese sauce. Combine with eggs or bacon to make it a breakfast sandwich. Baked eggs with fiddleheads, crispy prosciutto and a kick of spice are another breakfast dish sure to get you up and going.

Fiddlehead Snack Recipes

Fiddleheads can be incorporated into a medley of appetizers and snackable dishes. Consider fiddlehead crostinis made with cream cheese and lemon zest. This delightfully citrusy recipe will excite guests and family members alike. Fiddlehead and prosciutto pinwheels served atop sliced baguette rounds are another fancy addition to this list of appetizers.

For more approachable snacks, give beer-battered fiddleheads a shot. Serve them with a dipping sauce or try popping them into veggie tacos. Crispy fiddlehead poppers or fried fiddleheads with buffalo sauce are two more agreeable options. Fiddlehead dip is a spectacular treat that everyone can enjoy as well. Serve with crackers, chips or even fiddlehead focaccia.

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Fiddlehead Savory Main Courses

Fiddleheads can benefit an assortment of dinner courses. For a quick and manageable weeknight meal, try a classic Chinese stir fry enriched with pork and fiddleheads in a tasty marinade. Not your style? Try a spring vegetable ragout featuring morels, peas, fiddleheads and squash. A creamy version can be made as well with wild mushrooms and parmesan curls.

Add fiddlehead ferns to vegetable stews or use them as an accompaniment to fish like salmon, trout, haddock or cod. Fiddleheads can even be cooked and used as a pizza topping. Consider mixing with mushrooms, pancetta and goat cheese, or opt for a fiddlehead and wild asparagus pizza baked on puff pastry.

For a healthier evening meal, try a protein-topped salad on a bed of fiddleheads and salad greens. Proteins that accompany this forest find especially well include chicken, beef, pork and of course, salmon.

Fiddlehead Pasta Recipes

Fiddleheads can be added to a multitude of vegetarian dishes, pasta being one that it pairs particularly well with. Make an uncomplicated pasta of fiddleheads with ricotta and parmesan or assemble a spicier plate of penne, sun-dried tomatoes and chili flakes. Combine fiddleheads with morels and ramp butter for a spring dish of cherry tomatoes, sliced black olives and fresh herbs in a pasta primavera.

Other spectacular pairings include creamy, zesty lemon sauce with fiddleheads and spaghetti, simple one-pot fiddlehead pasta, and creamy sauteed fiddleheads with goat cheese over bucatini. For a truly fine treat, combine fiddlehead ferns with black truffle oil in pasta or use blanched fiddleheads to fill tortellini – top with the accompanying recipe for nettle pesto or your favorite sauce.

For those looking for a little more protein with their pasta, consider fiddlehead shrimp scampi or try a savory carbonara including bacon and heavy cream.

Fiddlehead Side Dishes

Fiddleheads are a rare spring find that can be worked into a vast range of side dishes for family dinners or potlucks. Consider roasting fiddleheads along with other spring veggies like asparagus and wild leeks. Love green beans? Saute fiddlehead ferns with bacon for a similar style dish. Other enjoyable fiddlehead side dishes span from fiddlehead risotto and fiddlehead gnocchi to simple fiddleheads cooked with lemon, garlic and prosciutto.

Roasted fiddlehead ferns with feta cheese are a dish great for serving alongside meats and fish. Simple sautes or those enhanced with cheese are also splendid side dishes. A fiddlehead potato hash is another option as well as a cold salad with fiddleheads, spruce tips, spring vegetables and agrumato (lemon oil).

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Cultured & Fermented Fiddlehead Recipes

Pickling fiddleheads is a popular way of fermenting this foraged spring treat. For safety, you should always blanch fiddleheads before pickling. Below, you’ll find recipes for lacto-fermented fiddleheads, spicy pickled fiddleheads, Indian-style pickled fiddleheads and pickling fiddleheads for canning.

Pickled fiddleheads can also be used in place of an olive or co*cktail onion as a garnish for martinis and co*cktails like this pickled fiddlehead martini or lady of the lake co*cktail made from tequila, rhubarb cordial and lime juice.

Preserving Fiddlehead

Fiddlehead ferns have such a short season that preservation is needed to enjoy this green year-round. Luckily, preservation gives you the space to work fiddleheads into multiple recipes throughout the year without overloading you when they’re in season.

There are three methods for preserving fiddleheads: drying, freezing and pickling. When you dry fiddleheads, the flavor becomes intensified. You’ll want to rehydrate the fiddleheads before cooking by soaking them or gently cooking in water until tender again. They can then be added to soups, stews, salads and more. Freezing fiddleheads is another option favored by many, but some find this alters the texture quite a bit, taking much of the crunch from this spring green.

To avoid any mushiness when freezing fiddleheads, it is recommended you just briefly blanch fiddleheads for a few minutes, then plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking. You can then freeze them. Once thawed, cook as usual (or for at least 10-12 minutes according to the Cooperative Extension of the University of Maine).

Pickling is of course a quick and simple option. There are a variety of recipes for pickling fiddleheads from sweet pickles to mustard pickles, so feel free to add your favorite spices and herbs for pickling.

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50+ Fiddlehead Recipes (Wild Foraged Spring Ferns) (2024)
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