Chervil is an herb related to carrots and parsley. It has lacy leaves, like carrot tops, that will produce flowers in the same way that Cow Parsley and Queen Anne's Lace do. The leaves may be curly or flat, depending on the variety.
The plant, which can grow up to 2 feet (60 cm) tall, thrives in shady places and cool conditions, but won't survive winters in northern climates. It bolts easily in heat, unfortunately, and will go to seed, so you need to pinch off the tops as it attempts to form buds to flower.
It does well growing in containers, though it doesn't transplant well. The leaves should be used while they are green. As they get older on the plant they will turn purply bronze and the flavour isn't as pronounced. It tastes like parsley with a very mild liquorice flavour.
As with any herb, you always get a few people saying the dried version is useless, but then the same people will likely reach for "fines herbes", not really realizing the dried Chervil is usually an essential part of that mixture. The fact of the matter is, that it's just not all that common an herb outside of French cooking, and the form of it that most of us have access to it is in dried form, end of story. Granted, it's a terrible waste that grocery stores dedicate space to non-essentials like dairy and bread, when fresh Chervil is a-wanting, but fact is, it isn't just a-wanting, and that's why they don't normally carry it. Even in French cooking, it is largely only used in "fines herbes" mixture and in Sauce Béarnaise.
When you are buying dried Chervil, choose dried Chervil that is still a dark green: light green or yellow is old and has been exposed to light too long. Freeze-dried or frozen Chervil will have better flavour.
Refrigerate fresh for up to a week in a tightly-sealed plastic bag, or freeze using the herb ice cube tray trick (see main entry for Herbs).
If you want to preserve the flavour, you can infuse white wine vinegar or oil with some Chervil.
Literature & Lore
HerbsAngelica; Angostura Bark; Bay Leaf; Borage; Chamomile; Chervil; Chives; Comfrey; Curry Leaves; Dill; Dried Herbs; Epazote; Filé; Folium Indicum; Garlic Greens; Green Garlic; Gruit; Herbes Salées; Herbs; Hops; Jacob's Ladder; Lady's Bedstraw; Lavender; Loroco; Lovage; Marjoram; Mexican Tarragon; Mint; Mugwort Powder; Oregano; Pennywort; Potherbs; Rolling Mincer; Rosemary; Rue; Sachet Bags; Sage; Salad Burnet; Sarsaparilla; Sassafrass; Savoury; Screw Pine Leaves; Shiso Leaves; Silphium; Sorrel; Stevia; Sweet Cicely; Tarragon; Thyme; Trefoil; Valerian; Wild Garlic; Winter Purslane; Wormwood; Yarrow; Yomogi
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