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What’s the point of curly parsley?

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Brent Hofacker/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Brent Hofacker/Alamy

What’s the point of curly parsley? You never see anyone buying it, and recipes always specify flat-leaf.
Colin, Stonehaven

“Curly parsley is not seen as glamorous, like Italian or French flat-leaf parsley, but as the garnish of the 1960s,” says Jane Scotter, who runs the revered biodynamic farm Fern Verrow in Herefordshire. “It’s just gone out of fashion, but it is by far the better tasting of the two.” And she’s in good company, with Fergus Henderson, chef and founder of St John in London, also firmly on #teamcurly. “It has substance. When chopped, it retains a bounce, a fluff, whereas flat-leaf parsley chops down to sharp shards that take over a dish in a swishing sort of way.” Fighting talk, indeed.

Curly has a green, irony flavour, but it’s the texture that, as Mark Diacono, author of Herb: A Cook’s Companion, puts it, “people don’t want to deal with”. It’s coarser than its cooler flat-leaf cousin, so requires a little more work. The key, Henderson says, is “to chop it very finely, to avoid the ach-ach in the back of the throat that can result from its firm frizz. An extremely sharp knife and a courage with proportions is all you need to appreciate curly parsley.”

But where should Colin appreciate it? According to Diacono, “The time curly is really valuable is when you’re getting near fish and, perhaps not unconnected, with cream.” He adds that he wouldn’t make, say, parsley sauce without the crinkled variety, either: “It’s got to be bold.”

In Simon Hopkinson Cooks, though, there’s a tweak on the theme with buttered parsley pilaf with peppered hake. Hopkinson makes a buttery parsley puree by plunging the herb (“coarser stems discarded”) into salted boiling water, brings it back to a boil, then strains and refreshes in iced water. He squeezes the parsley dry, then blitzes with melted butter and crushed garlic until “very smooth and a vivid green”, before stirring into a pilaf.

However, Freddy Bird, chef/owner of Bristol’s Little French, goes one step farther: “Curly parsley has a place in ham and parsley sauce, and that’s it. It’s a flavour that reminds me of school and my granny, so I’ll take the hit of grit and texture for that hint of nostalgia.”

Sauce aside, chowder is another good case for curly, Diacono says, as are hearty soups in general. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes: “It does sterling work when flavouring a stock and, if finely chopped, is delicious strewn into omelettes or over stews.” Another option is to use curly in garlic bread, or simply to fry it and serve with fish. The method for the latter, which comes from the River Cottage A to Z, goes: melt butter in a frying pan until it sizzles, drop in your parsley sprigs and fry until crisp.

And if that hasn’t convinced Colin, here’s a final pitch by Henderson: “Sullied by its sad garnish associations, we must reclaim curly parsley,” he campaigns. “It has an entirely different nature from flat-leaf, which seems defeated before you’ve even started. It’s not a garnish, it’s an ingredient, and has the benefit of tasting wonderfully of parsley.”

• Got a culinary dilemma? Email feast@theguardian.com

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