By Carolyne

During birthday 150 for Canada, make any of these delightful fiddlehead offerings… but remember, it’s a totally seasonal thing; fiddleheads are only available, picked fresh, in Canada’s east coast in the spring.

(Scroll down for Lady Ralston’s personal Cream of Fiddlehead Soup recipe.)

Just one idea of many: Use my vichyssoise recipe (see below) and float on each wide, flat, deep soup plate, the properly cooked, coiled fiddleheads. They must be carefully cleaned, gently poached twice in fresh, salted water (toss away the poaching liquid) for about seven minutes or less each time, then bathed in ice water to stop the cooking and keep the delightful natural green fern colour of the fiddleheads. Then sauté and drizzle in hot unsalted butter; melt a butter puck from your frozen herb butter log always on hand, and drizzle over the hot sautéed, fresh picked, never frozen, fiddleheads.

If you are not going to float your fiddleheads in my vichyssoise, or use them instead of leeks, making my most delicate Cream of Fiddlehead Soup, perhaps invite your guests to share the fiddleheads as a side dish, drizzled with just a little of my warm blue cheese salad dressing. Or alongside a grilled Portobello mushroom (the Portobello tastes like steak, truly.) Maybe even stuff the Portobello with cooked fresh crab meat and homemade coarse, seasoned breadcrumbs, served alongside the fiddleheads side dish. This won’t work well with store-bought breadcrumbs.

Fiddleheads, the tiny curled frond of the fern family, taste a little like earthy asparagus, and can sometimes replicate the moisture fragrance of soggy peat marsh soil. Fiddleheads can be poisonous if not cooked properly. But for people from New Brunswick to Maine and parts of Quebec, gourmands wait anxiously for the short-lived spring feasts of this native green (fern) vegetable.

If you would like an accompaniment, may I suggest a ramekin (prepared ahead of time, covered and refrigerated overnight is okay, then served at room temperature) filled serving cup of my garlic, fresh, shelled (after sauté), medium-size shrimp, sautéed in real garlic, slivered and mashed, with butter. (You can deglaze the sauté pan with your choosing, but Asbach Uralt brandy performs well.) Add the just barely cooked shrimp (peel the shells after the shrimp are sautéed, before you add the shrimp to the cream sauce), bathed in my garlic cream bagna cauda sauce. Include a portion of toasted black-olive baguette smeared with unsweetened butter or a herb butter puck. As a gourmand addition it makes for a sometimes earth-moving eating experience like no other.

Vichyssoise (1972) Leek Soup, Pureed with real cream (or make it as Lady Ralston’s personal Cream of Fiddlehead Soup)

To make this soup into a fiddlehead cream soup, simply replace the leek with fiddleheads, washed and simmered (twice) and sautéed in hot unsalted butter. Add the pre-sautéed fiddleheads separately to the sautéed onions and proceed as with the vichyssoise recipe.

Sauté rinsed (get rid of ALL the sand completely and carefully) chopped leaks. I use three tall generous size leek stalks, or four skinny ones. Use all but the very top dark inedible bruised dark green rubbery pieces – other people use only the white part. I try hard not to waste anything that is at all edible, and I don’t mind the additional flavour imparted by the mid-green section. I cut each stalk into three or four pieces, then split lengthwise to get the sand out. Often leeks are full of fine sand even when you don’t see it. Change the rinsing water a few times and each time you will see the sand residue.

Add to the sauté pot, a small white onion, (about a half-cup size) cut in quarters and a clove of garlic (small, skin removed, not crushed). Leave it whole, it will disappear. Add a sprinkle of dry thyme, a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of fine pepper. Not much of either. You can add more later.

Don’t let the pot burn. Use medium high heat to sear the leeks and onions, but not completely brown them. Watch closely. Stir if the leeks and onions stick to the pot. When the leek and the onions are almost soft, add a couple of cups of homemade chicken stock (never from a box, those products no matter what brand are too briny) and three small potatoes, quartered. Don’t try to extend the volume by adding extra potatoes; that will make the soup gummy.

That’s it. When the potatoes are almost soft, not mushy, turn off the heat and puree in a food processor or blender. At this point you can leave the base in the fridge overnight or even freeze the base. It will keep for ages to provide an instant gourmet soup on a busy day when you don’t feel like cooking. Readymade “gourmet.”

In a new pot, on high heat, scald half and half cream. Be careful not to burn the cream. Lift the pan off the heat from time to time. The amount of cream depends on how much of the base you are going to use. For the whole pot, I would not use more than a cup and a half of half and half cream. Or a 1:3 mix of cream to base.

Let the cream come to a soft boil in a large pot. Watch it VERY closely. Don’t leave the stove. It will puff up and want to overspill the sides of the pot. Just lift the pot off the heat. Let the cream puff up about three or four times. It will automatically thicken as it fills the pot and recedes.

Remove the cream pot from the burner. Then using a large ladle, scoop the leek mixture into the hot cream and stir gently until heated through. Do not boil. The cream will separate and make a mess. Just warm through. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. You cannot freeze the soup with the cream in. I tried it – the mixture goes watery. If you have frozen the base, mash it with a potato masher to bring to a consistency where you can add it to scalded hot cream. Then whisk gently or stir with a wooden spoon. Heat. Do not boil.

It always tastes better the next day. It will keep in the fridge for a few days and can be reheated very gently, even over a pot of hot (not boiling) water in a bain-marie. The cream soup will stick and burn easily in the pot if you aren’t very careful using direct burner heat.

2017 update:

Up-Gourmet my spectacular vichyssoise soup by adding a drizzle of your Asbach Uralt cognac marinating jus from your black mission fig jar, just when ready to serve. Decorate each serving with a medium large fresh green, fried basil leaf, propped in the centre of the soup plate, or a large, fresh, fried, mint leaf. Or split a marinated black mission fig from your jar and centre it in the soup bowl. Very yum!

I don’t much care for what Julia Child insisted in the making of her soups. I don’t follow her recipes. Some people say that her method of using roux and veloute to thicken cream soups works for them. It’s much better, in my opinion, to use real cream and no flour, as I noted in a REM column years ago.

How about: Maybe a fiddlehead salad

Perhaps make your favourite hollandaise sauce, made with wilted finely chopped shallots, beurre blanc, drizzled over sautéed fiddleheads in unsalted butter, with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a bit of lemon zest.

Fan a sliced, pitted fresh plump avocado, spritzed with lemon and lots of fresh grated pepper and a little salt; drizzle with your favourite white balsamic vinegar. And add a few brightly coloured edible flowers (maybe violets and nasturtiums for a nice colour mix) to a pretty see-through glass plate.

Twist a few paper thin prosciutto slices into loose rose-like shapes around the edges of the plates. As an alternate or in addition, peel a fresh juicy cantaloupe or a papaya and slice in generous slices and add to each salad plate.
If serving on a buffet table, print the word Fiddleheads in cursive, on a tiny label and wrap the label on a stable toothpick inserted into each salad plate.

And then there is the piece de resistance: prepare your favourite beer batter and deep fry fiddlehead coils that you have poached and sautéed first. Salt immediately. Eat right away. Or as an alternative, try dredging cooked, individual fiddleheads in seasoned all-purpose flour or even semolina, egg wash and coarse, fresh homemade breadcrumbs, and deep fry. Salt while hot. Mouthwatering treat, for sure.

Here is some more interesting reading:

© From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks

The working title for Carolyne’s Gourmet Recipes cookbook is From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks. This kitchen-friendly doyenne has been honoured and referred to as the grande dame of executive real estate in her market area during her 35-year career. She taught gourmet cooking in the mid-70s and wrote a weekly newspaper cooking column, long before gourmet was popular as it is today. The cookbook will be available in the coming year. Email Carolyne.


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