Lesser known paku kubok could be Sarawak’s next fiddlehead dish star

Freshly plucked pucuk paku kubok..

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By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, Feb 26: If someone asked you for wild sword fern (Nephrolepis acutifolia), chances are you would not have a clue what they are asking you for, but if they asked for paku kubok or paku uban, the name might ring a bell or two.

Pucuk paku kubok is wildy abundant here in Sarawak and is edible. It is called sword fern in English because the tip of the fern resembles a sword hilt.

The Dayak, especially the Iban community, would probably not recognise the feature of the fern for what it is named after in English, but would be more familiar with its characteristic ‘furry’ stem. Not only is it enjoyed as a dish, it is also believed to have uses in traditional medicine.

Pucuk paku kubok stir-fried with dried smoked fish and salted black beans.

If you are not familiar with this fiddlehead, you could visit a farmer’s market, or native produce section at a vegetable market, to get a glimpse of it. You may even be able to encounter this wild vegetable as you walk by the roadside.

At the vegetable market, it is usually placed next to the more familiar pucuk midin or pucuk paku, which most people in Sarawak know very well.

People tend to bypass the fern at the vegetable market and go for the more recognisable pucuk midin or pucuk paku. The ‘furry’ stem may put some people off from consuming it.

Pucuk paku kubok is usually sold at RM3 per bundle at farmers’ markets.

So why is pucuk paku kubok less popular than pucuk midin and pucuk paku?

A vegetable seller at a farmer’s market told DayakDaily recently that they don’t sell much pucuk paku kubok because people still go for the favourite pucuk midin and pucuk paku.

“So, unless the customer craves for pucuk paku kubok they would not buy it so we don’t order much from our supplier. But we still sell it for the same price as pucuk midin and pucuk paku, which is RM3 per bundle,” she said.

“I don’t know why, but it has been like always like that ever since I became a vendor here. I believe we can do more promotion for it,” she suggested.

Pucuk paku kubok may not be as popular as its two better known counterparts, but this reporter believes the fern could be turned into a wide range of dishes and carve out its own niche among Sarawak’s many popular dishes.

If you have not eaten the fern before, do get some from your local farmer’s market and try it out. There are many recipes you could choose from available online.

The simplest way to prepare the fern before using it in a recipe is to wash the stems thoroughly and cut them close to the tip, as the tip is the more tender part of the shoot.

Pucuk paku kubok can be eaten as the star in a fiddlehead salad—blanched and mixed with pounded dried prawns, chilli, shallots, garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice, and sugar and salt to taste. It can also be added to a broth with lots of ginger and smoked fish, or stir-fried with your choice of either prawn paste (belacan), dried anchovies (ikan bilis) and many more.

This reporter’s favourite way of enjoying pucuk paku kubok would be to follow his grandmother’s recipe, which is to cook this fern shoot in a broth with lots of ginger and fried ikan bilis.

Pucuk paku kubok cooked in a broth with ginger and topped with fried ikan bilis.

A word of advice for those cooking the fern shoot for the first time: be careful not to overcook the fern as it will turn limp and lose that crunch it is known and loved for.

Given how tasty it is, the next time you think of eating wild fern, give a thought to pucuk paku kubok. — DayakDaily