Chervil and Cilantro can be used interchangeably in cooking, but are we mistaken to do this?
Chervil (pronounced sher-vil) Anthriscus cerefolium is a relative of Parsley and sometimes called French Parsley. Due in part to this family tree chervil is often mistaken for coriander / cilantro, Sweet Cicely, Parsley, Dill, Tarragon and most importantly hemlock.
It is really important to know the difference as to many people coriander has a soapy taste and is to be avoided. Then to all of us Hemlock being mistaken for chervil can be deadly.
Taste Profile Of Chervil And Herbs It Is Mistaken For
- Chervil tastes like a cross between tarragon and parsley. I tis a cousin of parsley and that may account for that element, however the anise flavor and aroma are very subtle. Making it a gentle addition to a salad or a garnish. Chervil loses it’s flavor profile very quickly once dried and will not cope well with the cooking process. I struggle to think of a recipe that requires it to be added before the final dish is served. A key ingredient in fines herbes.
- Dill has a light citrus flavor that some people think of as ‘earthy’ in profile. It is a wholesome aroma that evokes a slight sense of fennel and it is often mistaken for this herb. Dill will also wilt and lose flavor when added in cooking, but the vibrancy of the taste is not lost. Unless dried slowly the aroma will be lost in the preservation process. The sweet flavor profile of dill makes it ideal to go along with heavier flavors like alliums and mints.
- Parsley is very much the easy to use, go to herb of your kitchen garden. Flat leaf or curly leaf have a light peppery flavor that draws out the other tastes in your dish. The honest nature of this fresh herb is very much lost when dried and you will find that you may need to use a little bit more than you think! Parsley can be used in stews as part of a bouquet garni, but more likely to be found as a garnish and in herb butters.
- Sweet Cicely is a great favorite amongst foragers. The leaves have a gentle anise flavor, not too dissimilar to chervil, but without that back note of parsley. The roots of sweet cicely are very much in demand and look a little like horseradish roos but they taste like sweet strong licorice. The flowers are also edible and make a nice addition to a Summer salad. Massive word of warning here though, they look so similar to Hemlock that unless you are fully trained do not go foraging for what could be sweet anise or sweet death.
- Tarragon tastes of licorice or anise and is a real divider. Some people love the taste of that strong sweetness hitting them in a dish, whereas others will turn their noses up. Use in moderation with fish or chicken to give a lighter note, use with other chopped herbs in a sauce. There are so many recipes out there but the BBC Good Food is always so reliable as a starting point!
- Cilantro / Coriander has many different tastes. Those who like the flavor suggest it is a fresh and zesty garnish. Hence it’s use in many spicy dishes as it will elevate that core flavors. For those of us with the gene that detects the soapy taste cilantro can be a real hazard in any dish.
Based on these taste profiles you can see how a recipe may call for chervil, but you may get away with a replacement. Or even vice versa.
Appearance of Chervil Compared To Herbs It Is Mistaken For
- Chervil is a compact annual in the UK, growing to be around 2 foot in height and 1 foot in spread. Chervil has lighter leaves but looks very similar to flat leaf parsley, however it is also fern-like with the way the leaves grow.
- Dill can be overwintered as it is a perennial, but need a little extra care in the UK. It will happily grow to a height of between 2-4 feet. Feathery leaves that can be added to a bouquet garni or chopped into dishes.
- Parsley can be great as a biennial, if looked after correctly. Growing to around a foot in height parsley has a darker green to chervil. The flat leaf variety has serrated edges to the leaves that are then curled inwards with the curly leafed varieties.
- Sweet Cicely grows to a height of around 2-4 feet. Feathery fern like leaves mean it is often mistaken for chervil or poison hemlock! Very rarely grown as a crop, rather a foragers delight.
- Tarragon is a half-hardy perennial and will need some care in the UK. Tarragon will happily grow to 3 feet in height and has long dark green leaves like fingers.
- Cilantro / Coriander can grow in a similar manner to parsley, covering around 1 foot at maximum height. It is an annual that can self-seed to look like a tender perennial. Flat leaves with scissored edges it can be mistaken for flat leaf parsley when compared to looks alone.
- Chervil has a very long tap root meaning it is hard to transplant mid season. Chervil will bolt if grown in full sun and prefers a shady spot with plenty of water but adequate drainage. Once it has bolted it will go to seed quickly and self-seed around your garden. A large pot or container that can be moved is to be preferred.
- Dill loves full sun and plenty of well rotted manure dug in to aid with water retention. Water well in the height of Summer to avoid wilting. Dill does produce wonderful yellow flowers and will go to seed, producing viable crops the following year.
- Parsley is very similar to chervil with it’s growing needs. It will not appreciate full sun and will tend towards bolting. Grow as a biennial with the right over winter care. Parsley will appreciate a good water but can suffer from too much when grown indoors. Do not allow roots to sit in water.
- Sweet Cicely enjoys partial shade and will thank you for good drainage. Often found growing wild you will have luck growing from seed. However seeds need stratification – the process of Winter awakening the germ. This can be achieved by sowing seeds outdoors in Autumn and allowing the frosts to do their thing. As a result of this sweet cicely does very well in Northern England and Scotland.
- Tarragon is sun loving and will do well with regular watering. Aid this by digging in plenty of grit to help keep the roots moist but not damp. Two main varieties are Russian and French. Russian is fully hardy and will withstand pretty much anything the UK can throw it’s way, but with a bitter flavor. French tarragon is the variety we want to eat and it will need protection from harsh frosts and too much rain!
- Coriander can thrive from being moved around to fill new spaces, especially when young and you want to thin out your crop. Cilantro loves partial shade and will do well on a windowsill as a result of this. Make sure to water well, but leave adequate drainage, no roots being left soggy.
Uses and Substitutions For Chervil
Do not be limited by this next few bullet points! You go for what your family loves to eat and let chefs and so called culinary experts do the ‘rules’. These are just recommendations for you to try as well as time tested warnings about quality of taste etc.
- Chervil goes really well as a salad leaf, mixed with sorrel and lovage as well as a few sprigs of parsley. The sweetness mixed with the saltiness of lovage is great. Any dish that requires a fresh take on anise and parsley, but be wary of adding too soon. Yes it will make a nice herb butter, however not one for cooking with as it loses its color and flavor easily on being heated. Much nicer to use a knob of butter on peas as you are serving them. If you are making an egg salad, chervil chopped and tossed through is really tasty.
- Dill is best known as a garnish for salads or fish, specifically gravlax. It is also great in sauces and dips as well as potato salad. It can be used in cooking, but like chervil it will lose a bit of it’s gentle flavor and aroma along the way. For us chervil and dill make great substitutes for each other. Even though they may not get mistaken for each other, you can replace them easily.
- Parsley is a go to herb for so many cooks. The obvious garnish option but also in stews, casseroles, soups, homemade fish cakes, sauces, dips and more. Parsley holds it’s flavor well when cooked but can look unsightly when you find a sprig in your stew, for this reason a bouquet garni can be deployed. If you are bored of the usual parsley then chervil can be an obvious substitute, if it wasn’t so hard to find in your grocers.
- Cilantro / Coriander is used far too much if you ask me! I have strong taste receptors for that soapiness and therefore love to substitute other herbs in it’s place. For those who love the zesty flavor it is a great herb in dressings, rice dishes, stews, spicy meals, couscous, stir fry, salsa dressing etc. In short chervil will make a good substitute for cilantro, and it may work the other way round as long as everyone likes cilantro.
- Sweet Cicely as the name suggests is used as a natural sweetener. Dishes such as rhubarb crumble or black currant tart benefit from a few teaspoons of thinly chopped sweet cicely. For this reason it is not an ideal substitute for chervil.
- Tarragon goes well with all fish dishes, even in a sauce for fish. Great with chicken or veal as well as roast vegetables. Tarragon is robust enough to be roasts with olive oil and still be palatable. Meaning that Chervil is no a great substitute for tarragon, but the other way round works if you significantly reduce the amount of tarragon you use.
Chervil can be a herb that we like to try and replace with other herbs. Due mainly to it’s difficulty to get hold of all year round. Our solution is to grow it in your garden in pots or even indoors. For more on that try this article. However you can also buy from a good quality greengrocer and then try preserving what you can in herb butters or by drying. We have a free guide to drying times that you may want to consult first. If you dry the flavor profile is changed and we have put together a guide to converting measurements available here.
We also grow all of the above mentioned herbs and if you want any guidance on them, just use the search bar below. If you think you can’t grow your own, you are mistaken!
Thank you for your time and I hope you enjoy playing around with the herbs you grow and eat.