How would you feel if you were left out more often than not? So spare a thought for bay leaves. Whether it be fresh or dried, apparently some people can’t be bothered with them due to their very subtle flavour. I’m here to tell you, as a fresh bay leaf advocate, that they do make a difference to a dish. Think of them as a co-starring role; their eucalyptus, clove-like aroma and slightly bitter flavour offer the depth your slow cooked dish is screaming out for. Fresh bay leaves (Laurus nobilis) are more pungent and aromatic than dried and can be overpowering so always obey the less is more rule. Unlike other herbs, bay leaves do not lose their flavour during the cooking process. Although I always have dried bay leaves on hand, I’ve grown a bay leaf tree in a pot for years. Maybe I should plant it in the ground but I’m lazy and aware that they can grow up to 20 metres. Besides my 60 cm tree provides me with all I need and is a space saver. Being Mediterranean in origin, they love lots of sun, well drained soil and only need water every few days. The best way to start growing them is to actually buy a small tree from a good nursery. And like the slow cooked or braised dishes they are usually paired with, bay leaves are slow growing; a real case of sitting around and watching the bay leaf tree grow.
I doubt it keeps people up at night but there is much debate on whether fresh leaves can be substituted for dry. There is certainly a different flavour (many prefer them dried-they’re less bitter) but who cares? Live on the edge, do what works for you! I know I feel more in control of my life when I throw in bay leaves from my backyard. Fresh leaves can be hard to find so just grow your own. You can harvest anytime, all year round but it’s easier to remove the leaves from the plant in summer as they produce more oils when the weather is warm. You can also freeze fresh leaves for up to three months. Another handy hint is putting a few leaves in food containers such as flour to keep the silverfish and evil weevils away. I particularly pay attention to bay leaves around xmas time, there is something so traditional (although European) about them. So I’ve included the classic bouquet garni (French for ‘garnished bouquet)’ to end this post on a classy note. Always remember to remove the leaves before serving as choking on a bay leaf or bouquet garni is not a good look :: Jem x
1 fresh bay leaf
A few fresh thyme sprigs
A few fresh parsley stalks
Tie herbs together with kitchen string or in a piece of muslin cloth. Throw this little aromatic bundle in your stockpot for the cooking process and remove before serving. You will feel like you’re taking care of the finer details in life.