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Food

Learn About Chervil: Culinary Uses, Substitutes, and Recipes

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

Chervil has been a staple of classic French cooking for centuries. However, long before it made its way into the kitchen, chervil was lauded by some of the most ancient civilizations as a cure-all plant with potent medicinal powers.

Used by the ancient Greeks to create healing spring tonics, and herbalists the world over to cure the likes of digestive problems, chervil has long been a staple of natural medicine given its range of health benefits. Today, this mild spice is most popularly used in classic French preparations of dishes ranging from airy omelets to rich, creamy sauces.

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What Is Chervil?

Chervil is a tender leafy herb also known as French parsley or by its Latin name, Anthriscus Cerefolium. Although this delicate herb, which originated in the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe, is lesser known worldwide than other leafy green herbs, chervil has long been one of the principal herbs of French cuisine. Often confused with parsley, given their similar appearances and flavor profiles, chervil is one of the most mild tasting herbs with fine leaves that are easily broken down during cooking.

Along with tarragon, parsley, and chives, chervil is part of the fines herbs mixture, an important seasoning blend that is a mainstay of French cuisine.

What Does Chervil Look Like?

With a subtle flavor and delicate structure, chervil is primarily known for its faint flavor of anise or licorice. Often compared to the flavors of fennel, tarragon, and parsley, chervil has a more mild effect on the taste buds than its herbaceous counterparts.

What Does Chervil Taste Like?

Not to be confused with the wild white flowers also known as chervil, the herb can visually be identified by:

  • Delicate, curly leaves resembling carrot greens.
  • Light green color.
  • Similar in appearance flat-leaf parsley, but with paler and more ruffled leaves.
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Culinary Uses for Chervil

  1. Herb blends. Although the most common culinary use for chervil is in the classic French herb blend fines herbes, chervil can be used on its own to flavor a variety of dishes, from grilled fish to salad greens.
  2. Garnish. Given its notably mild flavor, which can be lost easily when exposed to heat, fresh chervil is primarily added in its raw state at the end of cooking.
  3. Rubs. In addition to its use as a garnish, this herbaceous spring ingredient can be used in its dry or fresh form to flavor poultry, potatoes, egg dishes, and a variety of spring produce.
  4. Sauces. Chervil also makes a great addition to light sauces, mild cheeses, and herb butters that won't completely overpower this fine cooking herb.

What Is the Growing Season for Chervil?

While dry chervil can be purchased in the spice aisle year-round, fresh chervil is an annual herb that hits its peak in early spring, and is typically available to purchase from late winter to early summer depending on the area it’s grown. While in warm climates chervil is available earlier in the summer, cooler climates will have to wait for this herb unless grown in a greenhouse.

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How to Buy Chervil

Despite its prominence in French cooking, fresh chervil can be difficult to find in markets outside of the European country, unlike its more ubiquitous cousins cilantro and parsley. Seek out this unique herb at specialty stores and farmer’s markets, and look for bunches with a fresh, clean scent and good color. Avoid wilted, browning leaves and stocks, and any bunch that has blossoms, which will have turned bitter in flavor.

Although fresh chervil is preferred, as the already mild anise flavor is significantly dulled during dehydration, dried chervil can also be found in the spice aisle of the grocery store to be used during the cooking process, rather than as a garnish.

How to Store Chervil

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Given its fine, fragile leaves, chervil requires a delicate touch and should be handled with care when purchasing and storing. Store this herb wrapped in damp paper towels and standing up in a clear container filled with about an inch of water.

While chervil has a shorter shelf life than most herbs, and should be used quickly after it’s harvested, fresh chervil can be frozen to extend its lifespan. To freeze the herb, chop the leaves and place them in ice cube trays with water, stock, or oil depending on your intended cooking purposes. Freeze the tray and defrost the required amount of chervil when the herb is required.

How to Substitute Chervil

This leafy herb has a comparable flavor palette to a number of its green cousins, and can be substituted by one or a mix of the following herbs:

7 Recipe Ideas for Chervil

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  1. Omelet with Chervil: A french-style omelet comprised of beat eggs, chopped chervil, and parsley, cooked in a pan and topped with chopped ham, onions, and Swiss cheese.
  2. Herb Infused Oil: Olive oil combined in a jar with dried or wilted and crushed chervil and other herbs, infused for 2-3 weeks before being filtered through a cheesecloth.
  3. Chervil Pesto: An herbaceous sauce made of fresh basil, chervil leaves, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, and garlic.
  4. Grilled Salmon with Chervil: Simple salmon grilled in olive oil, topped with lemon juice, capers, and fresh chervil. Learn how to cook salmon with Gordon Ramsay in our article here.
  5. Béarnaise Sauce: A classic french sauce made of an emulsification of butter and egg yolk with white wine vinegar, chervil, and tarragon.
  6. Mashed Potatoes with Chervil and Chives: Creamy mashed potatoes made with heavy cream, chopped chervil, and finely diced chives.
  7. Herb butter: Good French butter softened to room temperature and combined with dry, chopped chervil and additional herbs.

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