When the secret ingredients for the second Edmonton Food Fight were revealed, Alexei Boldireff might have been thrown off by the lamb testicles and the Humboldt squid – but not the fiddleheads.
Boldireff, who runs S’wich out of MacEwan University during the school year and out of a food truck in various locations in the summer, is originally from Halifax, so he knew that fiddleheads – the young, curled fronds of ostrich fern that are staples of Atlantic Canadian cuisine and usually start poking out of the ground in April or May – could go in many different directions.
“They’re fairly versatile. They’re nice and tender. They pickle well. And the flavour’s fairly mild, so I knew I could work them into a dessert, which I did,” says Boldireff, whose chocolate souffl with fiddlehead marmalade helped him beat Spencer Thompson, now with Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen, in that April 2015 Food Fight.
Michael Avenati is the owner of Mo-Na Food Distributors, a staple booth at the City Market Downtown during the summer. The fresh, wild fiddleheads he sells are popular both with customers who are originally from eastern Canada, as well as with adventurous eaters born and raised in the west.
“There has been a progression, a little more each year, to explore the wild food options out there,” he says. “Whether it’s on the retail or restaurant level, they’re both moving up in some level of volume.”
Avenati mostly sources his fiddleheads from British Columbia, but notes that they also grow wild along riverbanks in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.
To those who have never had them before, Boldireff describes the texture of fiddleheads as like asparagus, though not as woody.
“They don’t have a huge, pronounced sort of flavour. They taste green … [like] snap peas. They have that sort of green quality to them, herb-like almost,” he says.
As tasty as fiddleheads are, they must be cooked before eating. Health Canada has warned that eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads can cause food poisoning, and recommends that they be boiled for 15 minutes or steamed for 10-12 minutes before consuming or using in other cooking methods like sauting or stir-frying.
courtesy Alexei Boldireff, S’wich
2 pounds fiddleheads
1 cup white vinegar
3 cups water
35 ml salt
35 ml sugar
3 small shallots
15 black peppercorns
2 cloves of garlic
1.Wash fiddleheads to remove any dirt or debris.
2. Mix vinegar, water, salt, peppercorns and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
3. Meanwhile, place shallots, garlic and fiddleheads in a clean glass jar.
4. Pour boiling pickling liquid over fiddleheads in the jar and seal. Store in refrigerator. Or, if you wish to store on a shelf, substitute standard canning procedure using same ingredients.