Cooking with herbs – The bay leaf
Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series
In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being. To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.
The Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis)
History: The laurel or bay tree is already mentioned in the Ancient Greek mythology, where the beautiful Daphne is turned into a bay tree in order to spare her from advances from Apollo. Successful Ancient Greeks and Romans were given laurel wreaths for athletic performances and victories in battle, a symbol still recognised today. The most famous Roman victor was Julius Caesar and he is often portrayed wearing a laurel wreath.
How to grow and use it: The bay leaf comes from the bay tree and can just be picked off an established tree. The berries of the bay tree are poisonous and clearly not fit for cooking. The fresh bay leaf has a very bitter taste, but once it is dried it starts developing its distinctive, aromatic flavour. This is partly due to a substance called Myrcene and the essential oil ‘eugenol’, an extract also used in perfumery.
Dried bay leaves are primarily used in Mediterranean dishes and to a lesser extent in the Indian cuisine. When used in the crushed form the bay leaf has an even stronger flavour, but is difficult to remove from dishes. That is the reason why most cooks prefer the whole leaves, as they can easily be removed before serving.
Bay leaves are most commonly used in slow-cooking recipes, particularly soups and stews, casseroles, terrines (dish cooked in an earthenware container), pates, and roasts. Bay leaves should be used sparingly, as the leaves are quite potent. When properly stored, bay leaves can last for up to three years.
Bay leaves can also find use to keep mice and moths out of your home. In this case crush the leaves, put them into muslin bags and add them to your clothes drawer or put them near mouse holes. You will see them no more!
1) Beef and Ale Casserole:
Ingredients: 1 tbsp. (table spoons) of cooking oil, 2 onions (chopped), 4 tbsp. plain flour, 1 tsp. (tea spoon) of sea salt, 2 tsp. dried mixed herbs, 1 kg lean beef, 1-2 bay leaves, 500ml dark ale or Guinness, 1 beef stock cube, 250ml water, 2 tbsp. tomato puree, 2 tbsp. caster sugar, 5 carrots (peeled and thickly sliced), 2 parsnips (peeled and thickly sliced), freshly ground pepper, 3 crushed garlic cloves
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. /Gas 4
- Heat the oil in an oven proof pan or frying pan. Brown the onions and remove them from the heat.
- Meanwhile put the flour, salt and dried herbs into a bowl and coat the cut beef (about 3cm cubes) in it. When all are coated add to the onions and return to the heat.
- Add the ale (Guinness), water, stock cube, bay leaves, tomato puree and sugar into the pan and bring it to boil. Then carefully transfer it into the oven (if you used a normal frying pan, decant the mixture into an oven dish).
- Cook the mixture for over an hour. Then add the cut carrots and parsnips and cook for a further 45min. (in total around 2hours). At this stage you can add more pepper and crushed garlic.
- You can make a big batch and freeze it in portion, but then do take the bay leaves out.
2) Aigo Bouido – French Garlic Soup:
This soup is easy to make and considered to be a tonic for the whole body. It cleanses the liver, improves the blood circulation and instills spiritual health. I find it also very tasty (never mind the garlic breath). This recipe is for 6 to 8 people.
Ingredients: 16 cloves, peeled, 1.5l (3pints) of water, 2 tsp of salt, a pinch of black pepper, 2 cloves, 1/4 tsp of crushed sage, 1/4 tsp of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 4 parsley sprigs, 3 tbsp olive oil.
For the egg mixture: 3 egg yolks, 2 tbsp olive oil – hard toasted bread cubes and 100g grated parmesan cheese to garnish
- In a cooking pot, brown the peeled garlic cloves in the olive oil and add the other ingredients, then bring to boil and simmer for around 30 minutes.
- Separate the 3 eggs, reserve the egg whites and whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until it is thick and sticky. Drop by drop beat the 2 tbsp of olive oils in to form a paste.
- Meanwhile put trenches of brown bread sprinkle the grated parmesan (or gruyere) on top, then place it under the grill, leave there for a short time, until bread toasted and the cheese has melted. Place aside until serving.
- When the soup is ready, take out the bay leaf, blend all the ingredients together and take it off the heat, then slowly whisk in the egg mixture and serve immediately with the toasted bread.
Another variation: Instead of the egg mixture you can also add 350g of peeled, sliced potatoes to the soup at the beginning of the cooking time, leave the soup until potatoes have cooked. Then take out bay leaf and serve.