Food editor Sally Butters is experimenting with creative coleslaw variations and growing chervil
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I’ m cooking with: CHERVIL
Chervil is very much an underrated herb but its time to shine is a-coming – in my kitchen, at least. Bye-bye boring parsley, with your coarse leaves and Italian aspirations; chervil is the “gourmet’s parsley”, and I’ve been rather taken by its softer, sweeter, more delicate nature and interesting note of anise. A traditional symbol of new life, chervil is also a sign that spring is nigh. Hooray for that!
The French have long known of chervil’s fabulousness; along with chives, parsley and tarragon it is part of the fines herbes combination, the classic seasoning for egg, fish and poultry dishes. Chervil also naturally enhances the flavour of many other new season foods including salmon, chicken, veal, new potatoes, broad beans, beetroot, peas, asparagus, salads and omelettes. Infused in vinegar, the leaves impart a delicious subtle flavour; they also make a jolly nice herb butter and a pretty, edible garnish. Chef Jason van Dorsten uses it liberally on his shaking beef (see recipe, page 129).
I’ve bought chervil as a “living herb” from the supermarket but its fragile ferny leaves don’t last well (and dried chervil, if you could get it, is purportedly tasteless) so my plan is to plant some. An annual plant, chervil prefers a cool, shady and damp spot. Like coriander, it bolts in hot weather and doesn’t appreciate being transplanted. So I’m planning to sow seed in spring, which should supply plenty of pickings up until midsummer.
To avoid flavour loss, chervil is added to food near the end of cooking. I intend using it whenever I might have previously opted for parsley, and making it the new star of my salads. Or I may just nibble on a sprig or two while out weeding; apparently chervil is good for sharpening the mind and lifting one’s spirits.