Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Chervil - Herb of the Week

This delicious culinary herb, used since Roman times, with a delicate flavor between tarragon and parsley is indispensible in French cuisine.  It can be used raw or added to cooked dishes in just the last minutes, after a dish has been taken off the heat and is ready to serve.  With salad season arriving now, I thought it was a perfect time for 

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) as Herb of the Week

Named after Apicius, the renowned gourmet of 1st century Rome, he was not the only one to love it. It is believed that the plant made it to England through the Romans and was well documented in historic herbals.  In a 15th century herbal, it was considered an essential kitchen herb.  John Parkinson, a 17th century garden writer in England, suggested using it in salads and as a flavoring in soups.  It is considered a Lenten herb because it has a flavor and fragrance resembling myrrh brought by the wise men to the baby Jesus.  Thus as a symbol of new life it is often served as a soup on Holy Thursday.  Chervil is considered to have blood-cleansing and restorative properties.  During the Middle Ages the entire plant was eaten to relieve hiccups.

Sporting a delicate and lacy, fern like foliage that forms a low-growing rosette, Chervil looks much like parsley.  The tiny white flowers, borne in umbels on slender stems, are followed by thin black seeds, making it look more like dill.

There are flat-leafed (Anthriscus cerefolium) and lightly curled (Anthriscus cerefolium ‘Crispum’) forms as well as a strain called ‘Brussels Winter’ which is tolerant of colder conditions.  The leaves are lightly ferny and a bright green in color.  Chervil is especially popular in French cooking, and essential (along with parsley, chives and tarragon) in the classic herb blend called Fines Herbes, which is used fresh with poached fish, shellfish and chicken and in green salads and egg dishes such as omelettes.  It will attract slugs, so is used as a companion plant to lure slugs away from vegetables.

curly chervil

To Grow
Native to the Middle East and southern Russia this plant has been widely cultivated just about anywhere it is warm, yet temperate.Chervil requires good drainage and a moist soil that is close to neutral in pH, preferably enriched with compost. Grow chervil in a lightly shaded position, because excessive sun exposure will cause the leaves to burn and turn rose pink. In warm climates, grow chervil in spring, autumn and even winter, as it has some cold tolerance and will withstand light frosts. Slight shade is the best growing space for this herb.

To propagate, use seed.  Scatter seed over the soil, press down lightly and water regularly. Seedlings usually emerge in about 10 to 14 days. Thin the plants to a spacing of 9 to 12 inches. Plants are ready for harvesting about 6 to 8 weeks after planting when they are at least 4 inches tall.  Plants can reach 12 to 24 inches in height. Chervil has a long taproot and bare-rooted seed lings do not easily transplant. It will not germinate in soil that is too warm. In cool-climate areas with mild summers, grow chervil for a continuous supply during the growing season, although light shade promotes lush growth, and the season can be further extended with the use of protective covers.  It is perfect plant to grow in Spring along with lettuces. 

Water regularly to promote lush growth.  There are no significant problems with bugs and diseases as with many herbs. But the plant can run to seed very quickly, so sowing a regular set of seed will give a more continuous crop.  Like parsley, harvest leaves from the outside, preferably with scissors, because the plant is delicate. Leaves can also be deep frozen in sealed plastic bags.

To Use
Chervil flowers, leaves and roots are all edible, although it is the faintly anise flavored leaves that are most frequently used. There are various types, including curly leafed varieties that make a pretty garnish.  Use fresh chervil in cooking, because its delicate flavor is destroyed by heat or drying. It goes well with glazed carrots and in butter sauces and cream -based soups.  Chervil frozen into ice cubes adds a refreshing taste to summery fruit drinks. Tea made with fresh leaves can be used as a mild digestive helper.
Chervil will dry easily, but shrivels extensively and requires a lot of leaves to dry a measureable amount.  You need to cut the plant for drying and eating before the flowers appear as they will sap the gentle flavor out of the leaves. Leaves of chervil raw are very high in Vitamin C, carotene, iron and magnesium.  Begin god for digestion, Chervil is also an aid to liver complaints, and circulation disorders.  A warm poultice of the leaves applied to joints to relieve aching.

The gentle flavor, more distinctive than parsley, will compliment almost any dish.  And like parsley will enhance the flavor of other herbs.  Use the leaf generously in salads, soups, sauces, vegetables, chicken white fish and egg dishes.  Always add at the end of cooking to avoid losing the flavor. CherviI butter makes a delicious spread for savory biscuits or bread. Also, use it as a flavorsome topping for barbecued fish, meat or poultry.


Fine Herbes
This classic French herb combination is traditionally used to flavor eggs, fish and to add zest to sauces in French cuisine.

Use equal portions of:

Blend dried herbs together and keep in a tightly lidded jar.  Use 1 Tbls per cup for sauces.  Use 1 to 3 tsp. for seasoning eggs.

Green Goddess Dressing

1 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
3 canned anchovy fillets
1 garlic clove, minced
2/3 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup fresh chervil leaves

Place first 7 ingredients in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Add parsley and remaining ingredients; process until herbs are minced.  Great on a traditional salad or a Greek salad with mixed greens and feta cheese.

Chervil and Herb Butter
This is great on noodles or broiled tomatoes or can be used on grilled or broiled fish or meat.

3/4 teaspoons of each of the following herbs (dried):
1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

Blend the herbs into the softened (not melted) butter with a fork.  Allow to meld for at least 1 hour before serving.  Finished butter can also be rolled into 1 inch balls or packed into a ramekin and frozen for later use. 

Beet Salad
1 lb. fresh beets
½ cup yogurt or sour cream
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. minced fresh chives
2 tsp. minced fresh chervil

Steam, peel and slice beets. Combine yogurt, mustard, and herbs.  Toss with beets and serve.

Steamed Beans
½ lb. green beans
½ tsp. ground anise seed
2 tsp. minced fresh chervil

Steam green beans until crisp tender.  Remove from heat and place in serving bowl.  Add anise and chervil and toss lightly.  Serve warm.


Herbs for the Home by Jekka McVicar

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

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