Sunday, May 23, 2010

Braised Fiddlehead fern with Konnyaku and aburaage ぜんまい、コンニャク、油揚の炒め物

Japanese like to eat seasonal "Sansai" 山菜 or mountain vegetables. These are wild vegetables collected from the mountains. One of them is furled fern leaves called "Zenmai" ぜんまい (which means a spring such as those used in wind-up toys--for it's obvious resemblance) or "Warabi" 蕨 (Both are ferns but with some subtle difference). As a kid, I was not crazy about this vegetable but as you get older (as I am), you remember and get nostalgic about the food you tasted as a kid. In North America, Fiddle head fern (which is very similar to the Japanese Zenmai) is harvested (very seasonal) from the wild and eaten especially in Eastern Canada and New England. When I saw fresh Fiddle head fern in our neighborhood gourmet supermarket, I decided to make a small dish in the Izakaya food category. In its raw form, fiddle head ferns contain some toxins and need to be prepared properly before being consumed.

I wash the Fiddle head ferns well in several changes of cold running water and remove discolored ends of the stems. I boil the fern in a large amount of salted water for 5 minutes (The water browns in the first boil). I drain them in a colander, then wash in cold water. Repeat this process twice more (total of 15 minutes cooking or boiling time and three changes of water). This process is called "nikobosu" 煮こぼす  (boil and drain) in the Japanese cooking parlance. After the last boiling and draining, place them in a sealed container with an ample amount of cold water. I leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Once this preparation is done, it is fairly easy to use the Fiddle head fern in a dish. I decided to make a rather rustic Izakaya or home style dish.

I am not sure how much Fiddle head ferns I had but they are just enough for two small servings (probably 15-20 heads). Devils tongue or konnyaku (alternative spelling=Konjac) 蒟蒻 (I used about half) is blanched for a few minutes and sliced into thin strips. Two aburaage 油揚げ (small koage 小揚げ or ianari 稲荷 kind) were also blanched and the water squeezed out, then cut into thin strips. I put peanut oil (1tbs) with a dash of dark sesame oil in a frying pan. When the oil was hot, I added the drained Fiddle head fern, sauteed for 1-2 minutes and added the strips of konnyuaku and aburaage and sauteed another minute or two. I added mirin (1tbs) and soy sauce (1 tbs) and Japanese 7 flavor red pepper powder 七味唐辛子 to taste and braised until the liquid was almost all gone.

The Fiddle head fern has an interesting texture and flavor. With a combination of konnyaku and aburaage and some spiciness, this is a good rustic dish but given the amount of preparation required, I am not sure if I will make this often (probably once a year).


Jon said...

Someone recently stumped me with 'zenmai', which I didn't know the meaning of (usually I know at least as many food words as Japanese people). On the other hand, she didn't know 'kogomi', so I think we were even. Surprised you can get zenmai in the wilderness of DC.

Uncle N said...

Well, I am sure Fiddlehead ferns must come from Maine. I would think only New Englanders or French Canadians (and rarely Japanese) who grew up eating this will buy and cook it.

Sae said...

I like this post for the nostalgic aspect as I've never had Fiddlehead ferns. Amazing how our senses can bring back fond memories.