Although you can’t really go by the weather here in the mid-South, it is in fact spring, and that reminded me that I had not done an installment of the Herb Series in quite awhile. I decided to explore an herb that maybe a lot of you haven’t heard of, and if you have perhaps you aren’t certain what its primary uses are. So sit back, relax and let’s have a little chat about chervil.
If you are into “boutique” or heirloom names for herbs you may know it as Sweet Cecily. If you are into horticulture or herbalism you probably know it as Anthriscus cerefolium, or Garden Chervil. No matter how you call it, this delicate little annual was believed to have originated in the Caucasus mountains of Central Asia many centuries ago. It owes its spread to the rest of the world to those well-known ancient inseminators of culture, the Romans, who took it all over their empire. This relative of both carrots and parsley didn’t really hit its culinary stride, however, until it found its way into French cooking. It is one of the main components of fines herbes, an herb mixture frequently used to season seafood, poultry and vegetable dishes.
Chervil can grow up to two feet in height, and both the seeds and delicate green leaves can be consumed. Its flavor profile is as delicate as its appearance, resembling a cross between tarragon and fennel, and is a great addition to any “light” recipe. The plants prefer weather that is cooler and somewhat damp, and the soil should be able to retain moisture. One interesting note about chervil is that unlike other herbs, it does not have much of a history as a medicinal application. A popular theory to explain this is that ancient cultures may not have believed that an herb with such a delicate scent and flavor could have the potency required to be an effective remedy.
Despite not being the first choice of most home cooks, there are numerous recipes available that include chervil, aside from the classic fines herbes. If you sometimes feel that compound butters have a bit too strong of a flavor, chervil may be an ideal alternative ingredient to consider. Soups are also an excellent stage for presenting this delicate herb; a possible one to try is this soup from Saveur, or this delicious salad from AllRecipes.com. Both are simple to put together and would be great additions to a spring or summer menu. It should also be noted that chervil leaves are best used when fresh, and shouldn’t be cooked for an extended period of time, so be sure to add the leaves near the end of cooking or right before presentation.
So there are a few little tidbits about this wallflower of the herb world. Hopefully it gave you a little something to think about, especially if you already have a home herb garden or are planning one. I know those recipes are certainly inspirational; that summer salad will definitely find its way onto my table. Leave a comment down below if you’re a fan of chervil – or if you’ve never heard of it at all. Have a great week and happy eating!