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Bay leaves: useful, or wishful thinking?


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I've been cooking for 45 years. I've made stews,braises, soups, and gumbos adding dried bay leaves or not depending on whether or not I had them. I once made baked potatos with fresh bay leave inserted into a slot. The only time I think the bay added anything was in the potatos.

I understand that fresh bay is better than dried bay. But if I buy fresh bay by the next time I use it, it will be dried bay.

Is dried bay useful or is it ritual?

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It useful for me, I can most often taste the difference.

Me too but haven't done blind tastings to prove it. I often add 4-5 big leaves when making a big pot of Cuban black beans and also use a powdered bay leaf when starting a sofrito
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I think most of the time people are using stale leaves...and people don't use enough of it.  Also, most people also use bay leaves in applications that require long cooking times. I find that after an hour of simmering, the smell of bay begins to diminish.  When you roast the bay leaf for a short bit with the aromatics and give it moderate simmering time, you can definitely taste the difference. Bay leaf adds something that can't really be isolated on its own, but when it's missing from a dish, you definitely notice something "flat" about it. 

Edited by takadi (log)
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I've always used bay leaves in stews, roasts - under the skin of roast poultry.

 

I have two bay "trees" - actually big bushes - and as they are evergreen in this climate, I can pick them all year.   I do dry some because there is a subtle difference in flavor (less sweet) in the dried leaves.

 

I lightly crush the fresh ones and simmer them in the milk or cream which will go into a custard - the flavor is distinct and complementary to both sweet and savory applications.

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"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I won't say I can always tell the difference between using bay leaves or not in any dish I cook - but in my conscious recollection there is a difference.  As others have said, more than just one or two leaves are used.  Yes, the age of the dried leaves would matter.  I've actually fished out several leaves from some stews I was making in the past (after adding multiple leaves) because as it was cooking along the aroma and taste was such that I thought there was a danger of it becoming a tad overpowering in the finished dish.  I find it hard to describe the "taste"/"smell" combination, but one way to think about it (for me) is that a certain "body" and tint gets added  to the palette of smells and tastes.  

 

For myself, I think there is a difference between fresh leaves and dried leaves, not that fresh is necessarily better than dried - the fresh adds a "greener" tint...and maybe a more resinous touch as well; but I have not used fresh bay leaves that often.  

 

BTW, I assume we are talking about Laurus nobilis leaves, whether fresh or dried.  California bay, Umbellularia californica, might be used as "fresh bay leaves" by some (or is "more accessible" in the US?) - but it is a different plant and the taste and smell is NOT the same or interchangeable.  There's an older eG thread that also talks about the two types.

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I think if you can't tell the difference the bay leaves are probably too old. Most people keep them way too long. Fresh ones are pretty assertive.

They are. I've purchased semi fresh in clamshell containers at green markets and a few grocery stores. They are more assertive. When using dried I used quite a few

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I stuff figs with chocolate and almonds, then let them sit in a mixture of dried bay leaves and sugar for a week. Shake the container once a day every day.

Makes for a great light dessert.

Soba Addict70, do you chop the almonds? 

Kay

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When i have dried bay leaves in the pantry i use it in chili, soups, and stocks. I dont think i ever notice with or without. To tell you the truth, I could not even tell you what bay leaf taste like. Obviously it taste like bay leaf, but i dont know what that is..lol. I picked up a bottle of this dried turkish bay leaf a few months ago at  bargain store for $1usd. I priced this same bottle at a grocery store and it was $6.97usd. Thats crazy, especially when i dont even notice a difference.

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Smoking sausages for boiling here must have bay, otherwise it taste  like something is missing.

 

I cant get fresh but I  am picky with spices so they are never go stale.

Cheese is you friend, Cheese will take care of you, Cheese will never betray you, But blue mold will kill me.

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Bay has a very distinctive taste, to me.  I like to put bay, garlic, lemon and  peppercorn in the water for boiling artichokes.  And sometimes I've been known to crush a bay leaf in my fingers before eating crusty bread -- love the aroma.

 

I made a Cuban Cristianos y Moros (black beans and rice cooked together) the other day and thought that the bay flavor was a little strong,but I've got a fresh batch of Turkish leaves. 

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There is also a Mexican bay leaf.  I buy them dried in Mexican markets.

 

http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/ingredients/detail/mexican-bay-leaf

 

I use bay leaves a lot.  My mother preferred simple kinds of cooking and foods.  She didn't use a lot of herbs or spices.  But our whole family loved her beef stew, and we'd eat buckets and buckets of it.  The only herb she put into it was several bay leaves.  The first time I tried to make beef stew in my small apartment after I left home, I didn't have any bay leaves, and didn't really understand what a difference they made.

 

Of course, the difference was considerable.

 

I have a bay plant for fresh leaves, and dried versions of laurus nobilis, and the Mexican bay leaves I mentioned above.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I do not care for the flavor of fresh bay leaves, at least the fresh bay leaves sold here.  I think they must be a different variety from the Turkish bay leaves I purchase dried.  As I recall from perhaps either MC or McGee, bay is a very complex flavor that requires a long cooking time for extraction.  More often than not I will use bay leaves in a braise.  When I make tomato sauce by the MC@H method I stick a couple bay leaves in the jar.

 

And of course bay leaves are important!  Bay leaf ice cream would just not be the same with out them.

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I find that when ground the flavour change,  I am ok with it in   Indian dishes  but not in Swedish, it just doesnt taste right.

Cheese is you friend, Cheese will take care of you, Cheese will never betray you, But blue mold will kill me.

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I dry and grind my own bay leaves - and there are many online vendors who sell bay leaf powder and some have recipes for rubs, marinades and other applications on how to use it.  Even Amazon has several choices.

 

It has to be used sparingly because it can overpower a dish if too much is used.  There are spice and herb combinations that compliment and enhance each other and there are several commercial spice mixtures - and several curry powder mixtures, that include ground bay leaves.

 

They have to be completely dry before grinding.  I break them to remove the central rib when it is thick and tough but grind them in a regular spice grinder.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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