Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bay Leaves

True bay leaves from various types of bay laurel trees. Used both fresh and dried. An aromatic herb that is used to flavor soups, stews, vegetables, olives, beets and meats. Three most significant supplies come from Mediterranean-Turkey (Laurus nobilis), India and California. The fragrance is more notable than its flavor in cooked food.

The leaf of the California bay (Umbellu­laria californica) tree is similar to the Mediterranean bay but has a stronger flavor. The very intense fla­vor of fresh bay leaves will mellow and become less bitter when dried. Premium bay leave are long, slender and intact. Unless in a pouch or wrapped in cheese-cloth, do not crumple the leaves. Even hours of cooking does not tenderize these, so small bits can get stuck in the throat.

Litsea glaucescens, laurel silvestre (aka Mexican bay leaf)  is from southern North America, mostly Mexico and may be used a substitute for Laurus nobilis. Due to overuse including ceremony of Palm Sunday, Mexican bay leaf has been declared as a protected species by law and its gathering is illegal. Mexican bay leaf is thinner-leafed, more silvery and more delicate in flavor than Mediterranean bay.

Like sage, many herbalist will claim these can cure almost anything.

Almost any stew, broth or soup can be improved with the addition of one or more bay leaves. "Bouquet garni" contains bay leaves as does marinades for olives or pickling spices. The bay is added to milk when preparing homemade rice puddings, ice creams or a white sauce.

Riff’s executive chef and owner John Platt makes a bay laurel butter that he serves with his Cedar Plank Salmon. I would make the butter by steeping 2 bay leaves per ¼ pound of clarified butter over a low flame for 20 minutes. (Clarify the butter will help prevent the butter from darkening.)

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