Spring came a little late this year, and so did the little green fronds poking up on river banks and flood plains around the state.
The season has been so cool and dry (until last weekend, that is) that fiddleheads have been slow to make their annual appearance.
But they are “coming along nicely now,” says David Fuller of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Farmington.
Fiddleheads are turning up in local markets and on spring menus. At The Good Table in Cape Elizabeth, the specials last week included a farmers market omelette with fiddleheads and a dijon creme, and eggs benedict with fiddleheads and hollandaise.
At the East Ender in Portland, chef/owner Mitch Gerow is serving fiddleheads with egg noodles, house tasso ham and Farmer Brown purple potatoes.
This week, we share a few fiddlehead recipes from Maine chefs.
Note that chefs find the food-safety rule about boiling fiddleheads for 10 minutes before serving a little over the top, like asking them to grill a piece of tuna for an hour, so their preparation methods vary. (Fiddleheads are vulnerable to secondary contamination from agricultural fields or wastewater because of where they grow. In some cases, if they aren’t cleaned and prepared properly, they can cause gastrointestinal distress.)
When making these dishes at home, keep in mind where you bought your fiddleheads, clean them well, and judge the risk for yourself.
Then enjoy this lovely little taste of spring.
Pete Sueltenfuss, executive chef at Grace in Portland, has been making a fiddlehead stew to accompany the restaurant’s Breezy Hill Farms pork chop. The dish is also served with cheesy roasted fingerling potatoes and a smoked cornbread and chicharon crumble.
From Pete Sueltenfuss, executive chef at Grace, Portland
Servings: Four as a side.
FOR THE FIDDLEHEADS:
1 pound fiddleheads, cleaned and blanched in salted water
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion brunoise (small dice)
1 fennel brunoise
6 roma tomatoes concasse
1 cup dry sherry
1 cup roasted chicken stock
Sweat the onion and fennel in butter until soft. Add the sherry and cook until most of the liquid is gone. Add the diced tomato and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Just before serving, add the fiddleheads so they maintain their vibrant green color.
Mitchell Kaldrovich of Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea is preparing fiddleheads brought to him by forager Rick Tibbets as specials for as long as the season lasts.
In addition to the goat cheese croquette-fiddlehead salad below, he’s making dishes such as duck breast with a light cherry sauce and fiddleheads, served with cumin polenta.
“Spring means fiddleheads and their mellow flavors fresh from our forager,” Kaldrovich said. “Fiddleheads are best treated lightly, just as you would asparagus. They are great with just a touch of lemon. I also like to quickly blanch them so they keep their crispness. I have fried them tempura-style after pickling them to top fish dishes or serve with a salad. In Argentina, we had nothing similar — fiddleheads are very special to Maine’s climate.”
FERN HILL FARM GOAT CHEESE CROQUETTE WITH MARINATED FIDDLEHEAD SALAD
From Mitchell Kaldrovich, executive chef at Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea, Cape Elizabeth
HERB LEMON VINAIGRETTE:
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons wildflower honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 lemons, juice and zest
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Maine sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Combine all the ingredients except the oil in a bowl. Whisk vigorously and slowly add the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon chives, chopped
2 sprigs fresh tarragon, chopped
2 handfuls baby arugula (rocket)
2 handfuls baby spinach
4 radishes, scrubbed and finely sliced
1 pound wild fiddleheads, ends trimmed, rinsed
Blanch the fiddleheads in boiling salty water for 3 minutes. Shock in icy water. Drain and season with salt, pepper and fresh herbs and dress with the lemon vinaigrette. Add the radishes, spinach and baby arugula. Taste for seasoning again and arrange in the center of a bowl. Top with croquettes and serve warm.
GOAT CHEESE CROQUETTES:
2 cups Fern Hill fresh goat cheese
Freshly ground pepper
2 cups bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chives, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Mix goat cheese with salt, pepper, chives and half of the parsley.
Scoop out on a plate and chill to firm up. In a bowl, mix eggs with parsley, salt and pepper. Put bread crumbs in a bowl and roll all the goat cheese, forming six rounds with your hands. Dip in the egg mixture, then coat with bread crumbs. Refrigerate. Fry in canola oil until golden brown.
For 25 years, Marjorie Standish wrote a food column for the Maine Sunday Telegram called “Cooking Down East.”
A compilation of Standish’s columns, which contained 350 classic Maine recipes, was published in 1969 and sold more than 100,000 copies.
Three years ago, Down East Books published a revised version featuring updated (and original) recipes from chef Melissa Kelly, who earlier this month won the James Beard award for Best Chef in the Northeast for her work at her Rockland restaurant, Primo.
This is Kelly’s recipe for pickled fiddleheads.
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 cups wine vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
2 1-quart jars worth of fresh fiddleheads
Toast the fennel, coriander and mustard seeds. In a large pot, combine the vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, salt and toasted seeds. Bring to a boil. Then, in a large bowl, pour the broth over the fiddleheads. Let them sit for at least 2 hours. Can according to modern canning instructions, or refrigerate for consumption within a few weeks. Makes two 1-quart jars.
©2010, Marjorie Standish and Melissa Kelly, from “Cooking Down East: Favorite Maine Recipes,” Down East Books
Fiddleheads are an easy spring addition to many recipes. Here, Jonah Fertig of Local Sprouts Cooperative adds them to a classic Maine scampi. (If you didn’t freeze any Maine shrimp this winter, substitute other shrimp, or try adding lobster.)
MAINE SHRIMP AND FIDDLEHEAD SCAMPI
From Jonah Fertig, Local Sprouts Cooperative, Portland
1 pound fresh fiddleheads
4 cloves garlic
1 stick (¼ cup) butter
1 pound Maine shrimp
Salt and pepper
Baby spinach or pasta of your choice
Cook fresh fiddleheads for 12 to 15 minutes in boiling water. Drain and cool.
Chop 4 cloves of garlic (or more if you like garlic).
In a frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add Maine shrimp and cook for 1 minute.
Add fiddleheads and garlic. Cook just until shrimp turns from bright pink to a whitish pink. (Do not overcook.)
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve the scampi over baby spinach or pasta.
Staff writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at [email protected]