Bay leaves are used all year round in cooking, but during the holiday time they are elevated to new heights by being used as an essential part of stuffing, brine, stews, and soups. Yet, some chefs are advocating that bay leaves add nothing worthwhile to dishes. So, what is the purpose of adding bay leaves to your holiday cooking?
Bay leaves are from the laurel family and they have had a storied place in history. In ancient Greece, Olympic athletes received laurel wreaths to mark their achievements, not medals made of silver or gold. Emperors were crowned with wreaths made of these bay leaves, as were scholars and poets. Matter of fact, that is where the term “Poet Laureate” originated.
Bay leaves are one of the herbs, which are better used dried than fresh. The dried leaves have a more pleasant and sweeter flavor than fresh ones. And the advantage of the dried leaves is that the longer you let them cook in your stews, soups, tagines and other slow cooking dishes, the more the flavor of the leaf has the time to seep into the dish and blend with the other ingredients. Usually the bay leaf is removed from the dish before serving. The flavor profile is unique, one of eucalyptus and menthol, combined with a little spiciness, and hints of nutmeg and cloves. Bay leaves have a pungent flavor so a small amount (1-2 leaves) for a dish for 4-6 people is quite adequate. Bay leaves add a singular layer of complexity to dishes, not provided by other spices. It is an essential part of some classic blends such as the French Bouquet Garni and the Indian blend Garman Masala. Bay leaves also pair well with beef, chicken, fish, lamb, lentils, rice, white beans, stews, pickles, marinades, and soups.
Turkish vs California Bay Leaves
Bay leaves originated in the Middle East, particularly Turkey; however, they are also grown in areas of Europe and the Americas. Most of the bay leaves on the market now come for either Turkey or California. However, there is a difference and we from Spice For Life prefer the Turkish bay leaves. Both types of bay leaves come from the Laurel family but from different species. California bay leaves tend to be larger, more aromatic, and have a more eucalyptus like flavor. The organic Turkish Bay leaves that we carry have a more tea-like mild menthol flavor.
No matter which bay leaves you choose, Spice For Life believes they are an essential part of holiday cooking!