Now here’s a meal that makes the “100-Mile Diet” – the commitment to eating local food grown within 100 miles of home – very appealing. The idea is not new to me because I grew up eating food that came from a whole lot closer than that! When I was kid, dad and I seldom traveled more than a day’s hike to reach our favourite fishing, hunting and wild food foraging grounds. Paired up with garden fare, we never went hungry.
I still strive to eat as much personally-harvested and locally grown food as possible, not only for the sake of good health but also to boost the local economy. Of course, in a country as vast as ours and with changing times, I sometimes find the constraint of the 100-mile radius to be a little too confining to suit my needs, so I’m much more lax with distance than we were in the old days. But one close range feast that ranks high on my list of spring meals is trout caught from a nearby fishing hole, served up with a side of fiddleheads gathered in the woodlands across from the lake, drizzled with wild hazelnut sauce made from nuts I squirreled away in autumn while enjoying the hunting trails. What could be better than spending the morning fishing and the afternoon gathering fiddleheads while working up a big appetite for a great supper!
There’s never a lack of fiddleheads, and they rise at about the same time as the lake becomes ice-free. But if the fish aren’t biting, my backup plan calls for hauling out a prize from the freezer (saved from an ice fishing adventure) especially for the purpose. And while we’re on the subject of the freezer, if you love fiddleheads as much as I do it’s simple to put a stash away for winter: just blanch for three or four minutes, drain, cool, and pop into freezer bags and you can enjoy fiddleheads long after the season has passed.
If you don’t have a sack full of wild hazelnuts on your pantry shelf, then commercial hazelnuts – grown right here in BC – will certainly do. Since cultivated nuts are larger than wild ones, you won’t need to crack so many!
This recipe calls for fish stock, which can be made from the head, tail and fins of the trout. Put the trims in a small saucepan along with a scant cup of water, some minced celery, garlic, onion and herbs,
simmer until tender, then strain. This makes a tasty stock, but you can also use whatever kind you might have on hand – such as clam or even a light chicken stock.
Ingredients and Instructions:
Wild Hazelnut Sauce
The original recipe for this sauce calls for using ¼ cup of hazelnut oil instead of ground nuts, but I find that using the nuts themselves gives the sauce a ‘meatier’ texture. This makes enough sauce for about 4 cups of fiddleheads.
¾ cup dry white wine
¾ cup fish stock
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 minced shallot
2 tablespoons minced sweet red peppers
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup ground hazelnuts (I grind mine in the blender)
Salt and white pepper to taste
Put wine, stock, lemon juice, zest, shallot and peppers into small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes, adding a little more wine or stock if needed. Add the cream,the seasoning, and all but 2 tablespoons of the hazelnuts. Cook, stirring constantly, until desired thickness is reached. Set aside.
Fiddleheads (unfurled fronds of the Ostrich fern)
If using fresh fiddleheads, shuck off the brown ‘onion-skin’ type scales. Wash well. Cook in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes or until fork tender. Drain, pat dry and add to the hazelnut sauce. Hold hot while frying the trout. If you don’t have access to wild fiddlehead patches, fresh BC fiddleheads can be found in the produce department of larger supermarkets while
Sprinkle dressed trout with lemon juice on both sides. Dredge in a mixture of 2 tablespoons ground hazelnuts and 2 tablespoons seasoned flour, pressing well to coat. Slip fish into hot fat and fry until crispy and golden on both sides. Transfer fish to heated platter. Serve the sauced fiddleheads on the side and garnish with additional chopped hazelnuts. This makes an ample feast for two.
A word of caution: Health Canada advises fiddleheads should be cooked until tender before eating as consuming them raw may cause upset stomach.