Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bracken Fern Shoots - Kyut-choi - 蕨菜

After reading my post on Chinese vegetables Hauman (one of my friends) asked me if I had ever bought “bracken” or “wild fern shoot” before and if not to add it on my list of “vegetables to try in 2012”.

I have been looking for ferns since the beginning of the year when about 2 weeks ago I found this plant at my favourite stall at the wet market in Mongkok.

Fresh brackens
I purchased my first batch of brackens at the end of April. As you can see on the above photo the colour of the stems was green-brown. I learnt that it was the end of the season but the plant was fresh and “edible”. I trusted my vegetable seller. I should have checked his stall every day (since the day I added bracken fern on my list) and/or gone to the wet market earlier, and most of all asked the vendor whether he would sell this plant and when was the best time to buy it.
Anyway, when I found this new veggie I was so eager to taste it that I decided not to wait for next year, although I knew perfectly well that its taste would not be as good and the texture not as tender as the first shoots of the season.
Warning: don’t be surprised to find a negative verdict at the end of this post.

I looked for some recipes on Internet as Hauman had only tasted the salted/pickled form and the few people I asked had never cooked it before.  
After a bit of research I found out that bracken was used in East Asia and North America cuisines. The young shoots are used fresh as a vegetable and can be stir-fried, steamed, cooked in coconut (in Indonesia), or roasted (in Japan). In some areas of India and North-Eastern China they are made into pickles, while in Korea dried fern bracken (called gosari) are sautéed and served as a side dish.
Read more from Wikipedia... 

I found a recipe of fern shoots salad that Gwen, the author of the blog “"Saturdayswithmaggy", makes during her yearly detox programme {seemed interesting but did not want to make a salad.}  I also found a recipe of ferns with shredded pork {which did not inspire me}; and one of a stir-fry with shrimp paste {Malay-style - from Elinluv’s Tidbits Corner, which seemed more to my liking.} Here is an adaptation of the stir-fry.

Stir-fried bracken ferns with chopped chilli

Fresh bracken shoots w/ shrimp paste & XO sauce

  • 1 catty (~600g) bracken shoots
  • 1 tbsp dried shrimps (previously soaked and drained)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, chopped
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 1 tbsp XO sauce
  • Grape seed oil

  1. Wash the ferns. Keep only the young and fresh stems. Cut off the rough skin at the end of the stems. Chop the shoots into 5cm lengths.
  2. Boiled the ferns for 2-3 minutes, drain and discard water. Change water and boil ferns for another 2-3 minutes. {It helps to remove the bitterness and soften the stems}.
  3. Heat oil in a wok; stir-fry crushed garlic and dried shrimps for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add shrimp paste and XO sauce (mixed with a bit of water). Stir for 1 minute and add the ferns in.  
  5. Stir well and cook for another 2-3 minutes {until the shoots are tender}.
  6. Turn off heat. Transfer the ferns in a platter.
  7. Add chopped red chilli on top and serve.
Boiled ferns

Stir-fried bracken
Note: It’s important to boil the shoots twice (discarding the water from the first boiling) to remove any bitterness and toxic substances.

Verdict: The shoots tasted mild and slightly woodsy (like mushrooms) but too rough and stringy to be fully appreciated.  The shrimp and XO sauces lifted up the overall taste.  I did not find the crisp-tender texture and the slight nutty taste mentioned by bracken ferns eaters.

I shared my cooking experiment with Hauman who jokingly told me: “this must have been a nice chewing experience”.  Indeed, it was!
I will have to wait patiently until next season to try again this recipe. I am certain it will then be 100 times better with young and bright green shoots. Will let you know!  In the meantime it would be nice, if you’ve ever had bracken fern before, to hear from you- readers. Thanks in advance for sharing!


  1. I purchased my first batch of brackens at the end of April. As you can see on the above photo the colour of the stems was green-brown.trees for sale

    1. thanks for your comment. Brackens are like that.....