Chervil

Körvel

Sprigs of chervil

Körvel (chervil) has been used in Swedish cuisine for hundreds of years, if not longer. Despite this, its use is dying out and it is now hard to buy in shops in Sweden. Sadly the same is true in the UK, the States and many other countries.

The forgotten herb

At first glance chervil looks like parsley, and that maybe the cause of its fade into obscruity. Many people simply haven't bothered to try chervil because it's easier to stick with parsley, which looks similar and you can buy parsley everywhere.

The taste

Chervil has delicate leaves and a subtle aniseed-like flavour. The flavour is delightful, but never overwhelming. It is spoilt by heat, so only ever add chervil at the last minute.

Buying

It can be bought on good farmers' markets, where it is usually sold in bunches in plastic bags. Put the bunches in water as soon as possible. At first they will wilt a bit, but after a few hours they will revive and then they can be kept for days, provided they are kept out of direct sunlight.

Alternatives

French leaf parsley mixed with a little finely chopped tarragon is probably the best substitute. French leaf parsley is visually similar, but doesn't have the delicate aniseed taste. Tarragon has a similar taste to chervil, but is far more powerful. Put the two together and you get close to chervil.

Another alternative is sweet cicely, but that is probably even harder to find than chervil.

Uses

Chervil goes well with salads, eggs, soups and fish. However, it is important to add the finely chopped leaves just before serving because its flavour is spoilt by heat.

Finely chopped chervil mixed with crème fraîche, salt and pepper makes a versatile sauce that goes well with fish.

Growing your own

Most people who like chervil grow their own because it is so difficult to buy. Fortunately it is easy to grow and will self-seed, so you may only ever need to buy one packet of seeds! The first leaves can be picked about 8 weeks after sowing. Despite its delicate appearance it is hardy, so you can pick fresh chervil in winter.

Sow chervil where it is to grow. Thin the plants to 15 cm (6") apart. A March or April sowing will provide a summer crop and an August sowing provides leaves throughout the winter.

Keep the plants well watered in dry weather and remove flower-heads. (You can leave a few flowers on if you want it to self-seed in the same place next year.)

When picking, remove the leaves from the outside of the plant first.

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