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.
Wash, pat dry, chop. Sprigs can be used as a garnish. Needs to be added at the very end of cooking, as its flavour doesn’t stand up to heat well.
Tarragon, but in half the amount as Tarragon has a more pronounced taste. Or chives or fennel leaves.
Dried Chervil can be kept for 6 months. Store in a dark place, don’t expose to light.
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.
Chervil is native to Eastern Europe. The Ancient Greeks used it. The Syrians before them had eaten it as a leaf vegetable, but the Romans used it has an herb for flavouring.
Literature & Lore
Chervil is often eaten in parts of Europe on Maundy Thursday; it is thought to have blood-cleansing and restorative properties, and to taste something like the myrrh that was in the wine offered to Christ (or offered to him at birth by the Three Wise Men, depending on which version you hear), and to symbolize rebirth (being one of the first herbs to grow in the spring).
The Romans called it “cherifolium”, the “cheri” part meaning delight, and the “folium” part meaning leaves. It is frequently used in French cooking — in fact, it is sometimes called “French Parsley”. “Pluches de cerfeuille” in a recipe means “leaves of Chervil”.