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Bay leaves release their rich savory flavor slowly so add them to long-simmering soups, stews, pot roast, tomato sauce and slow cooker recipes.
The botanical name of the bay leaf has a touch of grandeur: Laurus nobilis. Perhaps that’s why the Romans fashioned the deep green leaves into crowns to honor the earliest Olympic champions. Bay leaves, also called bay laurel, are still a symbol of highest achievement. Think of the honor of being called a “poet laureate” or “Nobel laureate.” In other cultures, bay leaves have a long reputation for protecting against lightning, witchcraft and evil. But we think their real usefulness is in the kitchen, lending a warm undertone to soups, stews and sauces.
The bay leaf is a sturdy herb that benefits from long cooking. It’s best when boiled, simmered, stewed or steeped. That’s when the bay leaf’s delicate flavor and subtle aroma really shine. We find that the bay leaf adds an unmistakable and comforting background note to almost any slow-cooked dish.
Bay leaves can technically be eaten but are usually not consumed. They are a stiff leathery leaf that do not soften with cooking. Most recipes suggest using them whole and then removing them before serving the dish. Bay leaves add a subtle depth of flavor and are usually used as a supporting herb.
Many cuisines, including Greek, French and Indian, depend on the bay leaf for its ability to transform simple ingredients. From risotto to mole to tomato sauce to simmered beans, bay leaves bring depth and complexity.
You might not expect to encounter bay leaves at your local bar. Yet modern mixologists are creating unusual cocktails infused with the flavor of bay leaf. Imagine sipping a drink of mango juice, orange vodka and blueberry liqueur with a bay leaf lending its herbal, tea-like flavor. Happy hour, here we come!
We love using bay leaves to brighten the flavor of starchy ingredients. Add the leaves to the boiling water when you cook potatoes and your mashed potatoes will be extra delicious. Same with dried beans. A few bay leaves, peppercorns and chili flakes in the cooking water will work wonders. Rice is another good candidate. Bay leaves give it depth of flavor. Just remember to remove the leaf before serving.
Marinades for most any beef, pork or poultry dish will benefit from the addition of a bay leaf. We like how it rounds out the flavors of other herbs. To marinate beef, for instance, combine a bay leaf with dried thyme and rosemary, plus olive oil, black pepper and a splash of red wine. Let it sit for an hour and then grill or roast.
Bay leaves are a surprisingly good accompaniment to seafood. Add a leaf or two, a few lemon slices and a sprinkling of celery seed to the water the next time you steam shrimp. The same goes for seafood soup. Classic Italian fish soups and stews often include a bay leaf with parsley flakes, thyme and a hint of crushed red pepper.
If you don’t have bay leaves on hand, what makes a good substitute? One of the best substitutes we’ve found for bay leaves is a pinch of poultry seasoning. It offers some of the same earthiness and complexity of flavor. When added to recipes that call for a bay leaf, poultry seasoning will retreat into the background as the dish cooks and lend a delicious touch. Fresh California bay leaves are not a recommended substitute for dried bay leaves. They have a menthol-like aroma that may overpower some recipes.
Keep dried bay leaves in an airtight jar similar to all herbs and spices away from heat and moisture. We recommend a spice cabinet that is away from the sink, stove and not facing direct sunlight. When properly stored, dried bay leaves can last up to 2 years but we recommend to always check the best use date.
Bay Leaves pairs nicely with these herbs and spices. Try them together the next time you're in the kitchen cooking something up for lunch or dinner.
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