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Mihku’s Fiddlehead, Corn and Shrimp Fritters with Garlic Aioli

A sure sign of spring’s arrival, tight curls of fiddleheads, which eventually unspool into lush ostrich ferns, begin popping up around Maine’s brooks, rivers and lakes from late April to early June. This versatile wild vegetable touts a fresh, woodsy flavor likened to asparagus or spinach. The harvesting season is short—a mere three to five weeks depending on the region and weather patterns—and many Maine restaurants showcase fiddlehead dishes as specials while these prized bites are still available.

Fiddleheads have been harvested for centuries by Maine’s Indigenous Waponahki peoples as an early spring source of vitamins and minerals. Classic Waponahki recipes typically call for slow simmering with a hambone or chunk of salt pork, which came to be a staple in many Waponahki households after colonization. Passamaquoddy and Malecite Peoples call fiddleheads “Mahsusiyil.” Locating, harvesting and preparing this springtime specialty is a continuing cultural practice of tribal families.

In this recipe, Waponahki cultural consultant Mihku Paul brings together traditional Indigenous ingredients for a fresh, flavorful fritter. It is not uncommon to see cornbread served with a Waponahki meal that includes fiddleheads, and these fritters marry the two complementary flavors with regional seafood.

How to Prepare Fiddlehead Ferns:

Preparation traditionally includes soaking or blanching first. Fiddleheads contain tannins that make them bitter, and they may harbor bacteria, so blanching and shocking is a vital step for safe consumption.

Freshly picked fiddleheads should be culled, graded, trimmed and blanched or soaked. Check the fiddleheads for size and appearance. They should be firm, 1–2 inches long with good color and no black areas on the stem. Cull any that are small, pale, limp or discolored.

Soaking: Soak your fiddleheads two times in cool water that covers them. Each soaking should be at least 1 hour. Discard the water each time. Drain well.

Blanching: Be sure to have the water at a boil. Blanch in small batches. Set fiddleheads in lightly salted water and let them sit for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon or hand-held sieve to scoop them into ice water bath to shock them and stop the cooking process. Drain well.

Your fiddleheads are now ready for any recipe you choose! They will keep fresh in the fridge for 3 to 5 days.

Mihku’s Corn, Fiddlehead and Shrimp Fritters with Garlic Aioli

INGREDIENTS:

2 c. self-rising flour 1 c. Abenaki Calais cornmeal 2 pinches of sea salt 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 1/4 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning 1/2 c. finely diced shallots 1 c. cooked corn 1c. cooked fiddleheads chopped and well-drained 1 1/3 c. cooked shrimp, well drained 3 large eggs 1/2 c. milk 3 Tbsp. melted butter

PREP:

Shrimp: Thaw if cooked & frozen, steam if fresh & uncooked

Fiddleheads: Clean, blanch and drain well

Corn: If frozen, then blanch, drain and set aside. If canned, drain and set aside. If fresh, cook cobs and strip corn from the cob, set aside.

MAKE GARLIC AIOLI:

3/4 c. mayonnaise 4 cloves garlic minced 2 Tbsp. lemon juice (fresh is best) 3/4 tsp. salt 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Blend all ingredients in a glass bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour before using. Flavors need to meld and mellow.

Variations to add: 1 tsp. of sriracha 1/4 c. fresh cilantro

DIRECTIONS FOR FRITTERS:

  1. Add all dry ingredients, including salt, pepper and spices and mix them thoroughly. Set aside.
  2. Whisk eggs in a bowl with the milk. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter.
  4. Add shallots to dry mixture, gently fold in. Add corn, fiddleheads and shrimp last, folding each in.
  5. Drizzle half the melted butter into mixture and stir gently.
  6. Add the eggs and milk mixture half at a time, to moisten the mix. Don’t over stir!
  7. Add remaining butter and blend gently.

Your batter should be on the dry side but all ingredients are moistened.

COOKING:

Heat a small skillet (cast iron recommended). Add 1 inch of vegetable oil—NOT olive oil.

  1. Form patties 3 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick as you go. Cook in batches, 2–3 minutes per side. This ensures each one cooks the same amount of time. Flip gently after 2 1/2 minutes. Finish to a light golden brown. Drain on paper bag or paper towels.

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