Chervil (pronounced SHER-vil) is a delicate culinary herb used frequently in French cuisine. It is a member of the parsley family with a mild flavor. This spring herb is often used in egg dishes. It is sometimes called French parsley.
Chervil Taste and Flavor
Chervil takes like a delicate cross between tarragon and parsley. Chervil has a mild flavor with hints of licorice or anise, but without those flavors coming through strongly. If you don't have chervil and a recipe calls for it, a fine substitute would be fresh parsley or tarragon or a combination of the two. Chives or dill might also take the place of chervil for egg dishes, but will have their own flavors.
Chervil leaves are delicate and curly, somewhat resembling carrot greens. They are a little paler and have frillier leaves than flat-leaf parsley. Some bunches have tightly-closed leaves. You may find bunches that have blossoms, but you should avoid those because the herb will have turned bitter.
Uses for Chervil
Because of its delicate flavor, chervil is usually included in recipes, such as salads and soups, where it will not be overpowered by the other flavors. It is added at the last minute as the flavor won't hold up in prolonged cooking. Chervil is a good addition to omelets and is commonly used in making a classic Béarnaise sauce.
Chervil is included in the fines herbes blend, along with parsley, tarragon, and chives. This blend is used in French cooking on poultry, egg dishes, and in salads.
If you have chervil available, you might want to use it in herb infused oil, herb butter, or herb pesto to use with fish, poultry, eggs, soups, or salads. For example, use it in a recipe for roasted cod with wine and herb butter.
Unlike its cousins, parsley, and cilantro, chervil isn't easy to find at most markets other than specialty stores. As a spring herb, chervil will be available at different times depending on the local climate. In cooler climates, you will see it from spring into early summer unless grown in a greenhouse. In warmer climates, it may show up at the end of winter or early spring.
You can grow chervil yourself in an herb garden. It can be grown in a small pot on your windowsill or you can plant it in a garden that gets a mixture of sun and shade. It grows about two feet tall. It can be grown from seed sown in the spring or late fall. To keep a crop coming, sow seeds through the season every three to four weeks. It is ready to harvest when the leaves are open fully and tender. You can air dry the leaves and store them.
Once summer heats up, chervil will bolt, just like its parsley cousin. When it bolts, it develops bitter flavors, blooms, and goes to seed. Be warned that slugs seem to be attracted to chervil in the garden.