Kerabu Pucuk Paku – Fiddlehead Fern Salad
The “summer heat” in Singapore on most days these few weeks have reached the point of being unbearable. Save for the last few rainy nights which lent to breezy mornings and cloudy days, the rest of the time is basically hot hot hot! This kinda weather calls for something spicy and provocative to work up one’s appetite. Chanced upon some beautiful pucuk paku pakis on my most recent trip to the wet market and it is time to whip up a quick kerabu which is perfect for a homecooked meal!
Pucuk paku pakis is the colloquial name for fiddlehead fern which once grow abundantly as an undergrowth crop in our tropical rainforests. Owing to the high humidity the forest cover provides, the fern shoots are usually very tender and ideal for eating. With urbanisation, logging and oil palm plantations to induce deforestation and land clearing activities, the fiddlehead fern is no longer commonly seen in our markets as in the past. This is my first enounter here in Singapore for over the last 2-3 years.
The culture of eating fern shoots is not unique to our region. Midin is a very closely related species which is commonly found in Sarawak while further up north in Taiwan, birdnest fern shoots from the high altitude cloudforests are also popular in tribal cuisines In rural parts of Korea and China, particular those of the 朝鲜族 Joseonjok minority group in the northeastern regions, a temperate species of fiddlehead fern is also harvested for a cold dish called 拌蕨菜.
The condiments needed for the dish is very standard “kerabu” like. The base is made with fresh red chilies, calamansi lime juice and fermented shrimp paste to be processed into sambal belacan while the remaining ingredients act mostly as aromatics to support the flavour profile of the dish. Dried shrimp (udang kering) to boost the umami flavours alongside belacan used, torch ginger bud (bunga kantan) and kaffir lime leaves (daun limau purut) for their interplay of aromatics, toasted grated cococut (kerisik) for a nutty profile and sliced shallots (bawang merah) for a slight hint of astringency. To make the dish more “hearty”, I’d added prawns as well.
I’d cooked some dishes to enjoy alongside the kerabu pucuk paku for a homecooked lunch…
Telor Tempra is a classic Peranakan daily dish (laok ari ari) which is incidentally my to-go-to dish whenever I run out of ideas of things to whip up. It is so easy to cook yet so so yummy.
Rendang Daging Padang is a classic Indonesian dish which is well-liked by many. I like to cook a big batch of it, have them individually vacuum packed and frozen to enjoy whenever I feel like eating.
And of course the star of the day is the Kerabu Pucuk Paku which was ideal to cut through the richness of the rendang. Here’s my recipe on how one can prepare this dish at home should one score a lovely bunch of it!
Kerabu Pucuk Paku Fiddlehead Fern Salad (serves 3-4)
250g fiddlehead fern shoots (use only the tips)
6-8 large prawns, peeled and deveined
5-6 fresh red chilies
50g dried shrimp, pulverise into floss
1 tbsp toasted belacan powder
3-4 tbsp calamansi lime juice (from about 6-8 fresh limes)
1 torch ginger bud, julienned
3-4 shallots, peeled and julienned
1 young kaffir lime leaf, julienned
1 tbsp kerisik (toasted grated coconut) or toasted peanuts
Sugar and salt (adjust to taste)
Pound or blend red chilies, toasted belacan powder, calamansi lime juice into a coarse paste to make sambal belacan. Season with sugar and more salt if needed.
Blanch the tips of fiddlehead fern shoots until they are nicely soften. It should not be too soft either so that there is still a nice crunch to it. Blanch the peeled prawns until they are just cooked.
Place the cooked fern tips and prawns in a mixing bowl. Add dried shrimp floss, julienned torch ginger bud, shallots, kaffir lime leaf, kerisik and sambal belacan in to the bowl and give everything a good toss.
Plate up and garnish with more julienned torch ginger bud, kerisik, kaffir lime leaf if needed.