I’ve made no secret of my disdain for dried bay leaves in cooking. My general advice is “fugetaboutit.”
But I had the opportunity to do a scientific experiment yesterday with fresh dried bay leaves. (I know, that’s a contradiction of terms. A good rule in cooking is never use an ingredient which forces you into a logical fallacy or internal contradiction.) I purchased a brand new container of McCormick brand bay leaves, and moments after removing the hermetic seal, I popped two bay leaves into boiling water and simmered them for a half hour.
During the duration of this scientific experiment the kitchen smelled wonderful. Pretty much the same as every Whole Foods Market that I’ve ever been in. (So that’s your secret, John Mackey, one of your employees in every store is tasked with simmering bay leaves and piping that aroma into the shopping area.) But at the end of the simmering period? …
… the water tasted vaguely of boiled leaves. Brenda tried it too and said she thought it might taste a little like soup.
I’ve tried this before with not-so-fresh bay leaves … and admit it, the bay leaves on your spice rack are probably months, if not years old … and I got nothin’ — little aroma while simmering, no taste in the water afterwards. So “fresh from the factory” dried bay leaves certainly improve the situtation, but what they add is negligible. (I suppose the French would call it subtle. Most of their food is, after all,
subtle negligible and can be greatly improved with a dash of tabasco sauce or a shake of Moroccon or Algerian curry powder … nothing improves the French like the North Africans … but I digress, and the French who have their cars burned in the streets on a semi-regular basis probably disagree.)
So my advice is save your bay leaves for making victory wreaths or as aroma therapy when you can’t make the trek to the big city to visit the nearest Whole Foods Market. But as an ingredient in soup? Fugetaboutit!