The winter cook’s herb supply is much depleted but the noble bay tree is still offering leaves to flavour savoury and sweet dishes. Robin Powell shares some favourites.
The leaves of bay are usually used dried, but if you have a bay tree growing in a pot or in the garden, you can also use them fresh. You’ll find the fragrance and flavour more floral and sweet, and less pungent.
Use fresh leaves when you want a delicate flavour, say in sweets and with simple chicken or fish dishes, and use dried leaves when you need a sturdier
flavour to stand up to long-cooked braises and stews and anything with lentils or tomatoes.
To dry leaves, pick them early in the day and dry between two pieces of gauze, weighed down with something to stop them curling. When dry store them in
a sealed container out of the light. Alternatively simply prune branches from the tree, tie them together and hang them upside down somewhere dry to
use as needed. Keep refreshing your supply.
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Bay is an essential ingredient of bouquet garni: tie together a dried bay leaf, sprig of thyme, and a few stalks of parsely and add to soups and stews.
Remove before serving.
Bay chicken skewers
Chop chicken thighs into bite sized pieces, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, then thread onto soaked wooden skewers, alternating with fresh bay leaves.
Barbecue and serve with wedges of lemon.
Bay ice cream
Bay’s floral, almost nutmeg-like, flavour when fresh makes a great addition to an ice cream. Use your favourite base recipe, infusing the cream with bay
leaves, and omitting the vanilla. Serve it with an apple or quince tarte tatin.
Use a mortar and pestle to crush one cardamom pod, one clove, half a star anise, one black peppercorn and half a bay leaf together. Put the spices, with
a pinch of dried cinnamon and a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger in a cup of water and bring to the boil. Add a teaspoon of black tea and seep for a
few minutes, then add a cup of milk and gently heat to just before boiling. Let sit for a few minutes, then strain and sweeten to taste.
Did you know?
Bay leaves can keep the dreaded pantry moths out of the dry goods cupboard. Simply hang branches in the pantry.
Text: Robin Powell