Chervil lies in pole position amongst my reasons for tending a garden. Grown from seed in May, it has rewarded me with symmetrical feathery leaves through ’til early September (my fault in over-picking, rather than any lack of enthusiasm on its behalf).
There are two main reasons for this. Firstly its subtly flavoured, beautifully symmetrical and delicately feathery leaves; and secondly – though not least – because it cannot be bought by anyone outside of the restaurant trade. [UPDATE: Abel & Cole now sell it, we love you A&C]
I use it to cook omelettes fines herbes, to decorate canapes, tossed in salads, and most importantly in the recipe below:
Recipe: Brown shrimp, Cucumber, and Chervil Salad
I first tasted this divine combination at Shacklewell Nights in Canary Wharf. With a little help from a similar recipe in the St John Cookbook, and some tweaking of quantities, I arrived at this recipe. It has been repeated so frequently on house guests that I am left with but a stub of chervil, and a hankering for much, much more.
One particularly enthusiastic foodophile, after a few glasses of wine, was heard to say “The flavours are so balanced: I can really taste the cucumber. It’s incredible. I’ve never really tasted cucumber.” For weeks afterwards he referred to the salad as my ‘genius’. This may seem an extravagant way to discover the essence of cucumber; still, I urge you to try it.
Serves 6-10 as a starter
400g of cooked, shelled brown shrimp (I use 4 boxes of Heiploeg Crevettes Grises, available from Billingsgate and some fishmongers, including Walter Purkis) – you can use fewer, but the salad will miss them
1 red onion
bunch of chervil, leaves picked from stems
handful of chopped capers or extra-fine capers left whole
juice of 1 to 2 lemons
splash of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Peel the onion, cut in half, and slice thinly. Soak in cold water for anywhere between half an hour and two hours. I do an hour or thereabouts. This turns the onion into an altogether gentler creature. Drain when it is to your taste.
2. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthways, and cut into rough 10cm long strips, about 0.5cm square. They should resemble a heap of kindling rather than matchsticks (Fergus’s words, not mine)
3. Drain onions, and place in salad bowl along with cucumber sticks, torn up chervil, brown shrimp, and capers. Think whilst you do this, if you are uncertain about any of the ingredients, add a little less. You can always add more at the end, when you know how you want it to taste.
5. Just before serving, pour over half of the lemon juice, a splash of olive oil, and the capers. Taste. Balance the seasoning with a little extra salt and pepper, oil, capers, or lemon juice.
I leave you to search out my remaining chervil seeds, scatter them in a flower pot, and cross my fingers that September is a reasonable time for planting.