The aromatic leaf from the bay laurel tree, it is an essential component of the classic bouquet garni: parsley, thyme and a bay leaf. The bittersweet, spicy leaves impart their pungent flavour to a variety of dishes and ingredients, making bay a versatile store cupboard ingredient. It’s also one of the few herbs that doesn’t lose its flavour when dried.
Although fresh leaves are becoming more widely available, they are usually sold dried. The dried bay leaves are more strongly flavoured than fresh ones, but the uses for both are the same.
Bay leaves can be used to flavour vinegars and pâtés, and in pickling and marinades. Long cooking draws out the aroma of this herb and most braised, poached and stewed dishes benefit from the addition of a bay leaf, as do soups, stocks and risottos. Add a bay leaf when braising red or pickled cabbage, to poaching liquid for fish, or to infuse the milk for custard or rice pudding.