When it comes to cooking, the sheer variety of herbs and spices can be overwhelming. With all the powders, jars, and plants available, how do you know what to buy and when to use it? When is fresh better than dry? Should you eat the stems, the leaves, the roots? In Herb & Spice Companion (Wellfleet Press, 2015), Lindsay Herman has created an accessible guide to seasonings, with over one hundred profiles of the most-used herbs and spices across the globe. As exampled here with chervil, Herman provides a comprehensive look at each plant’s history, how to prep and serve and store the seasoning, and how to grow your own herbs from seed to harvest. That’s not even mentioning her instructions on various techniques for drying, freezing, frying, mixing, crushing, and chopping that are both brilliant and simple. A book for everyone, from cooks just starting out to old pros adding excitement to their dishes, Herb & Spice Companion is a must for any kitchen.
Flavors: sweet and subtle anise, with parsley
Chervil plants have lacy leaves that look much like parsley, only smaller and with intricately fringed edges. They’re a relative of parsley, dill, and fennel — all of which are members of the carrot family — so you’ll likely find it stocked near those similar herbs.
A signature herb of French cooking, chervil is essential to the traditional fine herbes blend and a common ingredient in creamy béarnaise sauce. It’s a tender, subtle herb that’s best served fresh or added at the end of cooking to keep the flavor intact. For this reason, chervil is ideal for salads, dressings, sauces, and eggs, or sprinkled over soups and cooked dishes just before serving. The herb’s pretty leaves also make it a wonderful garnish.
Chervil is believed to soothe stomach upset, lower blood pressure, and aid circulation. It’s also been used to relieve inflammation, including conditions such as gout as well as skin inflammation like eczema, acne, and topical allergic reactions.
In the Garden
Chervil is an annual that thrives in containers. Take care when choosing a pot, as it doesn’t fare well when transplanted.
Size: 1 to 3 feet
Container: 8 to 12 inches deep
Light: High shade to partial shade
Soil: Moist, rich, well drained
Plant: Seeds; does not transplant well
Water: Regularly, so soil is consistently moist
Harvest: Snip or pinch the stems, starting with the ripe outer foliage first to let the young stems at the center grow.
Care: When the plants seed, sow again to start the next crop.
Keep It Fresh
Freeze chopped chervil for up to three months. Chervil should never be dried.
In the Kitchen
Dishes: Salads, dressings, marinades, sauces, soups
Prep: Use whole fresh leaves or chop them before adding to a dish.
Serve: Offering a somewhat subtle background flavor, chervil is known to enhance the flavors of other herbs and is often used alongside chives, parsley, and tarragon. The springtime herb adds a sweet balance to vinegars and bitter greens, and complements other spring-season foods.
Vegetables: arugula, asparagus, beets, broccoli rabe, carrots, celery, endive, lettuce, green beans, kale, mushrooms, onions, peas, potatoes, shallots, spinach, tomatoes, watercress, zucchini
Proteins: beans, cheeses, chicken, cream, eggs, fish and seafood, turkey
Seasonings: balsamic vinegar, basil, capers, chicory, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, hyssop, lemon juice, mint, mustard greens and seeds, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
• Fennel leaves (stronger anise)
• Sweet cicely
More from Herb & Spice Companion:
Reprinted with permission from Herb & Spice Companion: The Complete Guide to Over 100 Spices and Herbs by Lindsay Herman, published by Wellfleet Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing, 2015.