Bay Leaf: Humble Hero of the Kitchen

bay leaf

Bay Leaf: Humble Hero of the Kitchen

Bay leaf is one of the most underused and underappreciated herbs. It seems like an unnecessaryingredient , but is the secret that brings your food to life. It gives your savory dishes that taste of completeness that is hard to get otherwise.

It has appeared in kitchens since the time of the ancient Greeks, mostly in Mediterranean, French, Thai, and Arab dishes.

What is Bay Leaf?

There are a few different types of bay leaf, but the most common is Bay Laurel. Other kinds include California, Indian, Indonesian, West Indian, and Mexican Bay Leaf. You can use the leaf either fresh or dried. As with any other herb, the dried version is stronger in flavor than the fresh. To get a really good sense of what it tastes like, take a couple of dried leaves and simmer them in a cup of water for about 5 minutes. Then you can drink the bay leaf tea and really know what it adds to your food.

How to use Bay Leaf

No matter if you’re using fresh or dried, the leaf is removed before serving. It’s not a tender leaf like basil or oregano, and is very unpleasant to bite into. There’s even a story in The Washington Post about a woman who forgot to remove the bay leaf from her spaghetti sauce. Her husband choked on the leaf and had to be rushed to the emergency room. Thankfully he survived, although their marriage did not.

You can add the leaf whole or crush it to release the flavor even more. If you crush it, it’s best to put the leaves in some sort of sachet so they’re easier to remove. Bay leaf is also an ingredient in the classic bouquet garni, where you tie up a bundle of fresh herbs and toss them into a slow-cooking dish. While there is no one set of herbs for this, a common combination is parsley, bay leaf, and thyme.
Bay Leaf is standard whenever I make broths or stocks and roasts. I also put it in a lot of my soups, especially those that simmer for a longer period of time. There are also some fun recipes that pair bay leaf with citrus fruit or chocolate for a sweet dish. Just Google “bay leaf in dessert” for a scrumptious listing of ideas.

In addition to cooking with bay leaf, you can also put it in your pantry to repel moths, flies, cockroaches, mice, and silverfish. Supposedly, you could also use it in a kill jar if you’re wanting to preserve and collect bugs. For me, I’ll stick to cooking with bay leaf.

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