Culinary Arts

What Is Parsley? Learn How to Cook With Parsley

Written by MasterClass

May 23, 2019 • 5 min read

A long-time mainstay in European and Middle Eastern cuisine, parsley is now used around the world as a subtle, herbaceous addition to a wide range of cuisines. The ancient Romans and ancient Greeks both used parsley in death ceremonies as a way to mask the scent. Today, parsley is best known as a versatile, fresh addition to sauces, salads, and any dish that could use a pop of color and a touch of herbal flavor.

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What Is Parsley?

Parsley, also known as Petroselinum crispum, is a member of the Apiaceae family. This leafy herb originated in the Mediterranean region and is still used heavily in the cuisines of the area. Although the exact origin of the parsley plant is unknown, this biennial has been grown for centuries in areas of Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria, and beyond. The herb’s Latin name comes from the Greek word “petro,” meaning stone, as parsley was said to have first grown in the rock-covered hills of Greece.

What Does Parsley Taste Like?

Available in both fresh and dried form, parsley has a bright, herbaceous, and slightly bitter taste that serves as a contrast to emphasize the other flavors in a dish, similar to lemon zest. Primarily known as a garnish, parsley adds an attractive pop of green color and vegetal flavor, making it the perfect final touch in the cooking process.

4 Different Types of Parsley

Although the most commonly used forms of parsley are flat-leaf and curly parsley, there are four varieties altogether. The different types of parsley include:

  1. Flat-Leaf - The most popular form of culinary parsley, this leafy green herb has a fresh, slightly bitter taste that makes it a great garnish. The most common type of flat-leaf parsley, Italian parsley, has a slightly peppery taste and a similar appearance to cilantro. Other varieties of flat-leaf parsley include Titan and Giant of Italy.
  2. Curly Leaf - A milder tasting variety of parsley, recognizable by its ruffled leaves and bright green color. Varieties of curly leaf parsley include Forest Green and Extra Curled Dwarf parsley.
  3. Hamburg (ak.a Parsley Root) - A variety of parsley native to Germany, recognizable by its larger leaves and thick roots. The leaves of Hamburg parsley are used ornamentally, rather than for cooking, while the roots are used to flavor stews and soups.
  4. Japanese Parsley - A bitter-tasting type of parsley native to Japan and China, with thick stems that can be eaten alone.

What Are the Health Benefits of Parsley?

Taken from the petroselinum plant, parsley is a good source of many beneficial active ingredients, like antioxidant flavonoids and phenolic compounds, in addition to its exceedingly high levels of vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin A from beta carotene, a pigment that also gives the plant its vibrant tone. This herb is also a great source of amino acid and folic acid, one of the most important B vitamins.

How to Cook With Parsley

Fresh parsley brightens the presentation and flavor of dishes ranging from soups to sauces.

  • To garnish. Fresh parsley has long been considered an ideal garnish, thanks to its vibrant, leafy appearance and herbaceous taste that serves to emphasize other flavors. For this reason, fresh parsley is most commonly chopped and added at the end of cooking, as prolonged heat exposure causes the flavors of parsley to deteriorate quickly.
  • In bouquet garni. In addition to its main role as a garnish, parsley is also a common ingredient in the French bouquet garni, a traditional bundle of fresh herbs that is tied together and placed in soups, stews, braises, and sauces to infuse an herbal flavor into dishes.
  • As a base. Parsley is also the primary ingredient in the popular South American condiment chimichurri, a vibrant green sauce made with fresh parsley, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and garlic.

On the other hand, dried parsley is recommended to be used throughout the cooking process, as the concentrated flavors in the dried herb need time to marinade and mellow before serving. Chefs also use parsley as a great flavorful addition to red sauces, ground meat dishes, and herb-laced bread doughs.

How to Wash Parsley

To prep fresh parsley for consumption, begin by washing the parsley thoroughly by dunking it in a bowl of water and swishing it around. Although store-bought parsley may be pre-washed, herbs you buy from the farmers’ market or pick from the garden will typically need a thorough rinse to remove any dirt or debris. Once the parsley is clean, shake off any excess water and pat the herbs dry with a paper towel.

How to Chop Parsley

To chop the parsley, there are two options: stripping the leaves from the stems before chopping, or chopping and consuming with the stems. Hold the bunch of parsley tightly together or tie the base with a rubber band and roughly chop through the bunch with a chef’s knife, using a rocking motion with the front tip of the knife planted on the cutting board. Only chop as much parsley as is required for the recipe and leave the rest intact on the stem.

How to Store Parsley

Fresh parsley should be stored wrapped in damp paper towels and placed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. It will stay fresh for 3 to 5 days. Dried parsley should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place and will stay fresh for 3 to 6 months.

8 Parsley Recipes Ideas

  1. Chimichurri - A traditional South American sauce made with parsley, olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, chilies, oregano, salt, and pepper. Find our chimichurri recipe here.
  2. Tabbouleh - A fresh and flavorful Mediterranean salad comprised of finely chopped parsley, tomato, green onions, bulgur, lemon juice, and olive oil.
  3. Parsley Pesto - A unique take on a traditional pesto made with fresh parsley, walnuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic, and salt.
  4. Lemon Parsley Roasted Vegetables - Cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, or another vegetable of your choice roasted in olive oil and dressed with a combination of parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon zest.
  5. Braised Artichokes - For Chef Thomas Keller’s classic barigoule, cut the artichokes into wedges, serve with braising vegetables, and garnish with parsley.
  6. Italian Gremolata - A popular Italian sauce, made with fresh parsley, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and chili flakes.
  7. Spaghetti aglio e oglio - Aglio e olio, meaning garlic and olive oil, is a simple dish, though here Chef Keller elevates it by finishing it with garlic confit, parsley, and bottarga.
  8. Couscous with Fresh Parsley - Couscous cooked al dente and combined with sautéed shallots, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Garnished with fresh chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Find more culinary techniques in Chef Thomas Keller’s MasterClass.