Fiddlehead fern — preparing a local favorite

Delicate lengths of fern frond rise from the edges of shallow streams around Kaua‘i. Warabi, a member of the bracken fern family, is easy to prepare and is accessible. While it does grow wild here, it is only cultivated by a handful of farmers.

The day Hukilau Lanai Executive Chef Ron Miller discovered it, he was on one of his routine trips through a Sunshine Market in search of seasonal vegetables for the restaurant’s “farmers’ market lasagna” that contains not only Kaua‘i grown vegetables but homemade noodles.

When Miller met farmer Glenna Ueunten he was immediately drawn to her modest table where green fronds unfurled from a pail of water. The unopened head of the fiddlehead fern appeared more as art than food. Eyeing her individually wrapped leaves of collard greens, Miller couldn’t help notice Ueunten’s attention to detail.

“Glenna really takes care with the way she handles her vegetables,” Miller said.

Miller may have been scouting out vegetables for his lasagna recipe that day, but he was also pondering a newly discovered passion.

“I was looking for an accompaniment for my homemade sausage,” he said.

The sausage that accompanies the warabi on the Hukilau Lanai pupu menu as well as on the restaurant’s wine and food tasting menu is of Cajun origin.

“Chipotle is the main spice I use in the Andouille sausage,” he said.

As for the warabi, Ueunten coached the chef on simple preparation by providing recipes which she offers all of her customers. Miller tweaked her recipe slightly to better pair it with his sausage.

Ueunten’s recipe recommends pouring boiling water over half inch lengths of warabi through a colander. Miller’s variation employs a coffee urn. He runs water through a coffee maker and then pours the contents over the warabi in a bowl and allows it to soak for 10 to 15 minutes. He then drains and marinates it overnight.

“A batch might last two to three days and it gets better over time,” he said.

Warabi has been compared to both asparagus and okra but neither description captures the flavor or the texture. If eaten immediately the texture does have a faint sliminess, but when pickled, that disappears completely and the result is crisp and clean. As for the flavor, it’s as mild as say, cucumber, and like a cucumber, picks up the flavors of its compatriot spices.

Warabi is a regular item on the Hukilau Lanai menu, but its greatest popularity is with Kaua‘i residents.

“We use it in banquets and local people love it,” Miller said.

A common way to prepare warabi is blanched or boiled, but historically the bracken fern family has enjoyed a much more comprehensive usage. Virtually all Native Americans used the rhizomes as food. Roasted on an open fire, the rhizomes were broken into pieces and eaten. Some tribes made bread with them. The unopened head of the fern is also a popular ingredient in Japanese sansai ryori — mountain vegetables. Once blanched, warabi is excellent in soups, salads and stirfries. Ueunten said be certain to make the warabi the last ingredient added to a stirfry and then to turn the heat off after two minutes.

Miller serves his pickled warabi with red onion and tomato tossed with lime, vinegar and fresh ginger, as well as the house made smoked sausage. As a final touch, the Okinawan spinach garnish adds a silky finish to this bright and flavorful appetizer. Hukilau Lanai is located in the Kaua‘i Coast Resort behind Coconut Market Place.

• For more information call the restaurant at 822-0600.

Hukilau Lanai Warabi and Sausage Pupu

Warabi dressing:

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons shoyu

1/4 cup lime juice

2 ounces ginger root peeled and grated

1/4 cup lime syrup (see recipe below)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

Peel and shred the ginger on a box grater. Mix all wet ingredients, salt, pepper and ginger.

Lime ginger syrup:

1/4 pound ginger, peeled and chopped

3/4 cup lime juice

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups water

Peel and dice ginger. Place all ingredients in a sauce pat and cook on low for about 25 minutes or until it gets thick like syrup.

Warabi preparation:

2 cups warabi dressing, one recipe

1 pound warabi

2 fresh local tomatoes

1 small red onion julienne

1/4 cup chopped cilantro washed and dried.

Trim the ends off of warabi and cut into quarters, about three-inch pieces. Cover with hot water from coffee maker and allow to soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Pour off water. Core and slice tomatoes. Slice in half and slice each half in six slices. Peel and julienne the onion.

Place the onion, tomato, cilantro and warabi in a container. Pour warabi dressing over and let sit refrigerated overnight.

Warabi Rice

1 cup warabi chopped 1/4 inch

1 package chirimen iriko (dried anchovy) or us substitute dried shrimp

1 package kamaboko (pink and white fish cake) sliced thin or cubed

2 pieces aburage (fried bean curd) chopped small

2 teaspoons salt

3 cups cooked rice

2 tablespoons oil

Fry iriko in oil over medium heat until slightly browned. Stir often. Add kamaboko and aburage, fry two minutes. Add warabi and stir. Season with salt.

Lightly separate and flake rice in a bowl, add warabi mixture and mix well. Serve warm.

Recipe courtesy of Glenna Ueunten of Ueunten Farms.

For fresh warabi visit Glenna Ueunten at the farmers’ market

• Monday: Noon at Koloa Sunshine Market

• Tuesday: 3 p.m. at Kalaheo Sunshine Market

• Thursday: 3 p.m. at Hanapepe Sunshine Market

• Friday: 3 p.m. Lihu‘e Sunshine Market

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