In many recipes, a bay leaf is nothing more than an afterthought—a dry, brittle leaf popped in the saucepot and removed before serving. But when used fresh, the spice has another world of flavor.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper writes in the Seattle Times
about the possibilities of fresh bay leaves
. “Slow grill or roast with the bay,” she writes, “and you get the soft, lovely tastes of the Mediterranean in high summer.” She recommends wrapping fish in the fragrant, resilient leaves, pairing with bright flavors like garlic and citrus zest.
The Los Angeles Times
also recommends the fresh bay leaf, and, as does Kasper, notes that there is more than one commonly grown variety—the California bay leaf (native, of course, to North America’s West coast) and the bay laurel (originally from the Mediterranean). It is the latter that is more common, and in the opinion of Emily Green
writing for the Times
, the better suited to cooking. In any form of wet cooking—a marinade, a stew—bay leaves release their incredibly complex essential oils while keeping their structural form, seeping so much flavor that one or two leaves is enough. In drier heat, however, like a roast, these fragrant oils are released into the air, so a good many more can be used.
And the bay leaf isn’t only for savory applications in meat and potatoes—Kasper recommends a single bay leaf to flavor a custard
, and the spice even shines in ice cream or sorbet. As so often, the fresh plant has layers of complex, even potentially delicate flavor that the dried spice version just can’t match.