There’s a reason The Fiddlehead Restaurant in downtown Bangor remains wildly popular nearly three years after it opened: co-owners Laura Albin and chef Melissa Chaiken serve comfort food elevated to a kind of art form, combining worldwide influences with classic American favorites, such as burgers and chicken and waffles. And as the name might suggest, Chaiken is a big fan of fiddleheads — the cute, curly little fern harvested every spring in Maine. Such a fan, in fact, that in May and June, the restaurant offers up fiddleheads as a side dish, and sometimes features the Maine favorite in main dishes.
Chaiken, who grew up in Japan before moving to Maine to attend Colby College, has found fiddleheads worldwide, and has a unique approach to cooking them. Though the traditional butter and vinegar preparation is still a favorite, she also likes tossing them with soy sauce, pairing them with pasta, lobster and a cream sauce, or sauteeing them with mushrooms. In one particular special that runs during fiddlehead season, Chaiken serves them with a pan-seared tuna steak, fennel pickles and celery root puree; it’s light, but still filling.
Pan-Seared Sesame-Crusted Tuna Steak with Fiddleheads, Fennel Pickles and Celery Root Puree
One 6-8 ounce yellowfin tuna steak
White and black sesame seeds
Japanese seven spice powder
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large celery root, boiled and pureed
1 heaping cup fresh fiddleheads, cleaned and blanched
¼ cup melted butter
Dash champagne or cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
Ponzu sauce, or soy sauce mixed with orange juice
1 large fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 cup water
½ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Make the fennel pickles ahead of time by boiling all the ingredients except the fennel for three minutes, and then pouring the mixture over the fennel. Let cool in fridge for at least three hours, and up to two weeks.
For main dish, first peel and cut celery root into chunks and boil until soft, and then puree with butter, salt and pepper. Treat celery root as you would a potato. If celery root is unavailable, potato will work. Next, heat oil in skillet. Salt and pepper the tuna, and then dredge it in sesame seeds and sprinkle liberally with Japanese seven spice powder. Japanese seven spice can be found in many grocery stores and specialty food stores; if you cannot find it, sprinkle the tuna with ground ginger, cayenne pepper and grated orange peel. Sear both sides of tuna steak until desired doneness; it’s best served at medium.
Meanwhile, add two tablespoons melted butter to another skillet, and add fiddleheads and salt and pepper. Saute for four to five minutes, and then add a tablespoon or two of champagne or cider vinegar. Remove tuna steak from pan and let rest for a few minutes before slicing into six or seven even slices. Plate celery root first, then top with sliced tuna; arrange pickled fennel and fiddleheads around it, and drizzle ponzu sauce — or soy sauce mixed with orange juice — around the whole plate.