Ho’io: Hawaii’s edible fern

Ho'io fern tips
Ho’io fern tips also known as pako in the Philippines

As the end of my stay on Kauai draws near, I’m trying to cram as many activities as possible into a long list of “gotta-dos”, the most recent being a foray into the lush forests of Koke’e to gather ho’io, an edible fern that is highly appreciated on island tables anywhere in the state. Now this is where I will go off on another tangent for the sake of discussion, because when I spoke with our hawaiian sous chef at the restaurant today, he informed me that the edible ferns go by the name of pohole so I don’t know if there are 2 different types to be had or if they go by different names on each island. The restaurant GM put in his 2 cents worth with “fiddlehead” but is there anyone out there willing to divulge some info on this?

Of course, those who know where to find ho’io/pohole will never reveal their secret location, so the only thing I can say is that this native plant has a delicate flavor which reminds me of asparagus. It is most oftened prepared in a simple salad – blanched fern tips, tomatoes, and onions seasoned with soy sauce. It’s the only way that I have ever remembered eating them. But being true to my experimental nature, I was looking for a way to incorporate japanese influences and found a package of yamaimo soba and dried shiitake mushrooms in the pantry. The idea for this fern shoots and buckwheat soba dish came on a whim and would be fine all by itself in larger portions, or preceding a main course of grilled teriyaki butterfish or salmon. Even better, perhaps some sweet prawns thrown in during the stir-frying process would turn this into a one-dish meal. Ono-licious!

Buckwheat soba with fern tips

Ho’io fern shoots with shiitake mushrooms and buckwheat soba
(serves 4)
8 oz. Yamaimo Soba (buckwheat noodle with yam)
8 whole, dried shiitake, soaked in warm water for ½ hour (or use fresh)
4 cups cleaned ho’io fern tips, loosely packed (see note)*
1 clove garlic, minced
Toasted sesame oil
Lite soy sauce
1 lime (opt.)
Untoasted sesame seeds

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt lightly. Add the soba and prepared fern shoots; cook for 5 minutes or until noodles are al dente.
2. Meanwhile, drain and squeeze dry the shiitake mushrooms. Cut thinly into julienne strips. Heat 2 tablespoons or so of sesame oil in a large skillet and add the julienned shiitake and minced garlic; saute briefly (do not let garlic brown). Remove from heat.
3. By this time the noodles and fern shoots should be done cooking; drain and stir into the shiitake and garlic. Return to heat and mix evenly, adding a few splashes of soy sauce and a generous squeeze of lime juice to your liking plus salt to taste. Plate individually and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

*Note: To clean the fern shoots, carefully rinse and remove dirt and any fine, downy fuzz. Break or cut into 1-inch pieces, discarding any sections that are too tough or difficult to break easily (like when snapping asparagus stalks).


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