Bay leaves are leathery and pointed in a deep, glossy green. Their aromatic oil is fresh and spicy with a eucalyptus character that softens to a complex woody flavour during cooking. It is also known as bay laurel and sweet bay.
Bay is one of the few culinary herbs that is not actually eaten but is only infused into sauces, soups, stews, and stocks. The leaves remain tough and inedible even after cooking, and are removed before serving. Bay adds richness and complexity to a dish, and is an essential element in the French bouquet garni. It can be stuffed into a chicken, added to rice during cooking, or matched with garlic and olive oil for slow cooked meats, casseroles, and pan-fried fish.
Bay contributes to good digestion by stimulating appetite and relieving pain and tension in the gut. The aromatic oils also have anti-microbial properties, killing off unwanted bacteria, fungi, and yeasts.
Bay is a hardy herb that will retain its freshness in the fridge, where it should be stored in the original punnet. It can be dried for storage by placing the leaves on a plate or in a paper bag and keeping in a cool, dry, dark place for a few days. It can also be frozen by placing in a zip-lock bag as is. Seal and freeze overnight.
Culture and History
Bay is popular in Mediterranean cooking, however it originated in Asia and made its way to Europe through the ancient trade routes. In classical Greek culture the bay tree had a strong affinity with the god of the sun, Apollo, and it came to represent victory, prosperity, and fame. The reference is still in use today in the English word 'laureate', which is used to describe achievement and recognition.