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How to Cook Fiddleheads

Three Methods:SteamingBoilingSautéing

Fiddleheads are the new fronds of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), and get their colloquial name because their coiled form looks like the head of a fiddle. These springtime delicacies have a taste reminiscent of asparagus, freeze well, and are easy to prepare, but they are not without their risks. We'll show you a couple ways to cook these up, and how to avoid their risks. Read on!


  • Fiddleheads
  • Water
  • Cooking oil or butter if sautéing
  • Butter, salt to taste


  1. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 1
    Clean the fiddleheads. Rinse thoroughly, then place in a bowl of cold water. Remove any bits of the brown papery coverings, and rinse again until they look green and clean with no leftover papery bits.
    • Caution. Do not eat fiddleheads raw like other vegetables! They must be cooked to be edible—there have been a number of reports of food-borne illness associated with eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads.
  2. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 2
    Cook one of the methods outlined below.
  3. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 3
    Serve with butter. If eating hot, season lightly and remember—the sooner you eat them, the better their flavor! Here are some other serving suggestions:
    • Add a splash of vinegar to freshly-cooked fiddleheads.
    • Serve as appetizers, on crostini or toast.
    • Chill, and serve in a salad with onion and vinegar dressing.
    • Almost any recipe calling for asparagus will work well with fiddleheads.

Method 1

  1. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 4
    Place fiddleheads in a steamer basket. Using a steamer will help preserve the delicate flavors of the fiddlehead ferns.
    • Add water to the saucepan or steamer, but don't submerge the ferns.
  2. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 5
    Bring the water to a boil. Steam the fiddleheads for 10-12 minutes, until tender.

Method 2

  1. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 6
    Boil water. Fill a saucepan with enough water to fully cover the fiddleheads.
  2. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 7
    Add a pinch of salt. When the water has come to a full boil, add salt.
  3. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 8
    Stir in fiddleheads. Return the water to a full boil, then cook for 15 minutes.

Method 3

  1. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 9
    Heat oil. In a skillet, heat a neutral oil such as grapeseed or vegetable oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. You can use butter as well, but lower the heat to medium—butter has a much lower smoking point.
  2. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 10
    Add prepared fiddleheads. These ferns should be steamed or boiled before adding them. Sautéing alone is not sufficient to prevent illness.
  3. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 11
    Sauté until they start to brown. Add salt to taste, and thinly sliced garlic or shallots if you like. Continue cooking for about another minute.
  4. Image titled Cook Fiddleheads Step 12
    Serve immediately, and enjoy!


  • The fern fronds should be tightly curled. If the fronds are old and more unfurled, do not eat it. Please read the Health Canada's Food Safety Advisory on fiddleheads here.
  • Correctly identify a fiddlehead. While there are many varieties of fern, the ostrich fern is the only one that is edible and safe to eat. Other varieties of fern may look similar, but can be poisonous or unpalatable.
  • Ostrich fern fiddleheads, which are about an inch in diameter, can be identified by the brown papery scale-like covering on the uncoiled fern, as well as the smooth fern stem, and the deep ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the fern stem.
  • Fiddleheads available in grocery stores are safe to eat, but care should be taken if you are foraging for these greens on your own.


  • Be sure your fiddleheads come from a reputable source. Grocery stores usually are completely safe, but ask your green grocer about the source to be cautious. Fiddleheads are often "cottage industries" in local regions, so if you are buying from a local, make sure that individual has a good reputation. Fiddleheads gathered wild close to roadsides can have pollutants in them.
  • Always be sure you positively identify wild vegetation before eating.
  • Fiddleheads must be thoroughly cooked before eating. At best, they taste terrible if cooked incorrectly. There is a toxin, known as shikimic acid in fiddleheads, that you do not want to ingest. Sickness from fiddleheads can include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps.[1]
  • Fiddleheads are often harvested in early spring, and only three out of the seven fiddleheads of a plant should be picked, or else the plant will die.[2]

Things You'll Need

  • Bowl for washing
  • Saucepan or frying pan
  • Spatula

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