Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is a tender spring herb in the carrot family (Apiaceae). An excellent source of vitamins and minerals, chervil has remained a steadfast culinary herb throughout history–especially in Europe. It’s delicate flavor grasps at parsley and sweet anise to yield a light, warming taste fit for any number of savory dishes.
CHERVIL IN HISTORY
Native to the Caucuses–a region spanning between the Black and Caspian Seas–chervil has naturalized in around the world. It’s spread through Europe is attributed to the Romans who used it for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
In the Middle Ages, chervil tea was used to treat hiccups. Among many herbs purported to treat the plague, a decoction of the roots were used as an antidote during the horrendous epidemic.
Chervil was used throughout Europe as a spring tonic to help cleanse the body of winter impurities. Nicholas Culpepper–a 17th century English herbalist, physician and astrologer–recommended chervil for a number of ailments, such as warming the stomach and expelling kidney stones.
Because chervil’s fragrance is reminiscent of myrrh–an offering given to baby Jesus–it’s tradition in Southern Germany and other parts of Europe to serve a chervil soup on Holy Thursday.
CHERVIL IN THE GARDEN
Chervil is a very cold-hardy, early season herb. I find fall seeded chervil to do well, as it will overwinter or come up early in the spring before the garden can be worked.
It’s a great garden companion, especially among brassicas, carrots and radishes. It’s said that radishes grown next to chervil will be hotter in flavor! In gardens that struggle with slugs, chervil can attract the slugs away from other vegetable crops.
Chervil bolts in late spring and sends up clusters of white umbel flowers that attract lots of beneficial insects. It will set seed in early to mid-summer and easily self-sows for the following year. In fact, the ease of spread has caused other species within the genus to become noxious weeds. Here on the Palouse, bur chervil (Anthriscus caucalis) is dominating disturbed areas in within prairie remnants and in other non-cultivated land.
CHERVIL IN THE KITCHEN
Chervil is very seldom found in stores. It’s a delicate herb that’s hard to transport and is only in season for a short time. It’s a truly a springtime herb, so make the most of it when you have it!
Chervil is sometimes compared to parsley or tarragon, but it’s flavor is far more delicate and it possesses a faint, sweet taste of licorice or aniseed.
It’s especially popular in French cuisine and is used to season poultry, seafood, spring vegetables, soups and sauces. It’s part of the classic French blend fines herbes, along with parsley, chives and French tarragon in equal parts. This subtle yet scrumptious combination is a delicious finishing touch to savory salads, egg dishes and poultry.
Fold chopped chervil into egg salads, green salads or butter (great for topping pasta or fish). Try adding chopped chervil as a garnish to roasted chicken or fish, roasted asparagus or carrots, pastas, omelets, or soups, like cream of mushroom, cream of asparagus or perhaps cream of lovage.
Check out our blog for some chervil recipes, including Deviled Eggs, a Chervil Coulis, and even a Chervil Infused Icing. The icing is a fantastic accompaniment to the equally springtime Rhubarb Cake or other rhubarb desserts.
HOW TO COOK WITH CHERVIL
Chervil is a delicate herb and its flavors quickly vanish with heat. It’s recommended to add chervil at the end of cooking (last minute or two) or as a garnish.
Rinse under cool water and gently pat dry. Chop it up fine or tear apart the beautiful, feathery leaves for an attractive finish.
Chervil is one of several herbs that doesn’t dry well. It’s essential oils easily volatilize and you’ll more than likely be left with flavorless flakes of leaf.
However, there are ways to preserve chervil for later use. Chervil makes a great infused oil or vinegar! Steep the herb in warmed (but not hot) oil or vinegar and let the mixture sit in a mason jar for a couple weeks (best to keep it in a dark place). Strain out the herb and bottle the oil or vinegar for later use.
Vinegars tend to keep longer than oils. But you can freeze the oil in ice cube trays, pop out the cubes and store them in a well-sealed bag in the freezer. Defrost a cube to make a salad dressing!
BEST FLAVOR PAIRINGS
- Soups (especially creamy)
- Other Herbs: chives, parsley, tarragon