Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Herb of the Week - Bay laurel

An aromatic evergreen shrub native of the Mediterranean.  The plant has stiff, shiny green leaves with a sharp, slightly peppery flavor with a medium bitterness due to an inherent sweetness.  Reaching as high as 30 feet in height in is native land, in most of the United States we grow it in pots and to makes it to 3 feet or so at most.

I am talking about Bay Laurel - this week's Herb of the Week!

The leaves of the Bay Tree (Laurus nobilis) are 1 to 2 inches long and 1 ½ inches wide, with a characteristic finely serrated and wrinkled margin. Since you need a male and female plant to produce seed, most do not.  Bay Laurel is the source of the bay leaves which are used for their flavor in cooking. It was also the source of the laurel wreath of ancient Greece, and therefore the expression of "resting on one's laurels". A wreath of bay laurels was given as the prize at the Pythian Games because the games were in honor of Apollo and the laurel was one of his symbols ever since his unsuccessful pursuit of Daphne. In the Bible, the sweet-bay is often an emblem of prosperity and fame. In Christianity it is said to symbolize the Resurrection of Christ and the triumph of Humanity thereby. It is also the source of the word baccalaureate (laurel berry), and of poet laureate.

Bay can be a natural insect deterrent. Try putting some dried leaves in the flour or sugar bowl, with whole grains, or stuff them in the clean toe of an old pair of stockings and use as a sachet in pantries. You could even tape some leaves to the sides of kitchen cupboards, drawers and shelves.


Making Bay Thrive

Bay is a container plant in most regions of the US and Canada because it is outdoor hardy only up to Zone 8.  The good news is it does very well in container and can be moved indoors in the winter.  Find a nice bay plant at a local nursery and bring it home.  They will grow in the shade outdoors, but since light is reduced inside, keep them in a sunny window and feed them with a top dressing of ½ inch of well-aged compost when new grow appears in the spring.  Harvest the leaves to use fresh or dried in the kitchen.  Because potted bay plants are prone to developing scale insect infestations, move them outdoors in summer so beneficial insects can feed on the scale.  You will need a horticulture oil spray to control it if it develops indoors in winter.

To Use

Bay seasons slowly, so it should be added at the beginning of cooking.  Used whole it can be removed or left in foods, but should not be eaten.  Crumbled or crushed bay leaves should be enclosed in a bag or tea ball, as they can still be sharp and can injure the intestines.  Bay is wonderful flavoring for fish or meat stock, soups and sauces, and goes well with port and beef roasts.

This herb is indispensable for pickling and can make an ordinary stew extraordinary.  It brings out the savory flavor of meats in all its forms, oven or pot roasted, goulash, corned beef, lamb, kidneys, and beef stock.  Bay will accent the goodness of most tomato dishes.  Add one leaf to a can of tomato soup for a wonderful flavor.  Add a few pay leaves to the skewer when making beef or lamb kabobs.  Give canned vegetables a lift by adding one to cooking water, especially with asparagus, green beans, carrots, beets and kidney beans.  Even boiled potatoes can come out of the ordinary with a bay leave added to the water before cooking.

One leaf if usually ample for meat dishes, soups or gravies.  Two small leaves in the bottom of a pan provides just the right flavor for pot roasted beef and gravy.  Delightful in fish and seafood sauces use one leaf with peppercorns to a tomato based sauce for cod.

Recipes

Pasta with Marinara Sauce

2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
3 Tbls. minced fresh parsley (or 1 ½ Tbls. dried)
3 Tbls. minced onion
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 bay leaves
Pinch salt & pepper
1 Tbls. chopped fresh basil
Cooked Pasta

In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté garlic in oil for 3 minutes.  Add parsley, onion, tomatoes, bay, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add basil. Serve over pasta.  Serves 4.

Bay Blend for Meat & Poultry
3 parts powdered bay leaf
2 parts rubbed sage
2 parts dried savory
1 part dried marjoram
1 part dried thyme
1 part dried basil
1 part dried rosemary
½ part garlic powder
½ part onion powder

Mix all ingredients. Store in lidded container. Rub into meat or poultry before roasting or broiling.

One of my favorite places to use Bay in mixes at the Backyard Patch is in Bouquet Garni.  It is also an important ingredient in my Beauy Monde Seasoning.  If you want to try either one, please visit the Backyard Patch e-store!

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