While I’m always keen to find new ingredients from more exotic climes, there are plenty of more traditional herbs and ingredients from closer to home that have been somewhat neglected in modern times. Chervil is a herb, most famous as one of the fines herbes of French cooking, that I don’t think I’d ever knowingly eaten before. It’s not something you’ll see much of in supermarkets (or anywhere else really) so if you don’t grow it in your garden or eat in the right restaurants, you probably aren’t too familiar with it either.
As is clear from its feathery appearance, chervil is a delicate herb and should be only added at the end of cooking, if it is to be cooked at all. It is a member of the same family as parsley and carrots and this is reflected by the flavour – somewhere between parsley and tarragon, two herbs it is paired with in French cooking. It doesn’t have the potency of either though, which is perhaps why its gone unnoticed in recent times as the others are quite easy to buy.
I picked up a generous bunch a couple of weeks ago while it was herb of the month in Morrisons’ but was a little stuck with what to do with it. It’s now really the end of the season for all the softer herbs like chervil, parsley and tarragon, so I’m perhaps posting this a bit too late to be relevant. How I ended up treating the chervil though, would be a good way of using up any forgotten bunches of herbs, or preserving what you grow to use in the winter, by blitzing the leaves with oil and keeping in the freezer to use when you want.
I was keen to try the chervil right away though and added a little vinegar as well as the oil to make a vibrant and grassy dressing for some pan fried fish. The leftovers became a garnish for a chorizo casserole and then an impromptu dip for some crusty bread. It could just have easily become a herby crust for salmon or a rack of lamb too. Anything you could do with parsley or tarragon, you could use chervil for, and I’ll definitely be looking out for it in the future!
Roughly chop the chervil and combine in a food processor or pestle and mortar with the oil until you have a smooth, loose paste. Add the vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with meat, fish or use to dress pasta. Keeps in the fridge for a few days. Alternatively add some breadcrumbs to make a crust for a piece of fish.