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Bay leaves (Recipe: bay leaf crusted pork roast)


If it weren't for Apollo, and his frustrated libido, there would be no bay leaves in The Perfect Pantry.

According to mythology, Cupid, taunted by Apollo for childish behavior, exacted revenge by drawing from his quiver two arrows — a golden one for love, and a leaden one to repel love. He aimed the golden arrow at Apollo, and the other at the nymph Daphne, beautiful daughter of the river god Peneus.

Struck by Cupid's dart, Apollo lusted after Daphne, who, thanks to Cupid's trickery, couldn't stand the sight of any man and so made her father promise never to force her to marry. Apollo's desire drove him to pursue the nymph; he chased her, running faster and faster, threatening to overtake. And just when she was within his grasp, she called on her father: "Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger."

Immediately, her body became stiff and encased in bark, her hair turned to leaves, her feet to roots. Peneus had kept his word, and changed her into a bay laurel tree. Apollo — distraught, bewitched, and besotted — decreed that the leaves of the bay laurel would remain forever green. He wove leaves into a crown and wore it always; thus, a crown of bay leaves became a symbol of honor. And in honor of Apollo, laurel wreaths were presented to the victors at the first Olympics in 776 B.C., and they are given to marathon winners to this day.

Poor Apollo, but lucky us.

Most common in the pantry, and found in every kitchen pantry in every region of the world, dried Mediterranean bay leaves, from the Laurus nobilis tree, have a sweet and rich aroma, with very slight overtones of nutmeg and camphor. The leaves actually mellow as they dry; fresh leaves taste more bitter, and should be used sparingly.

The California bay leaf grows on a related tree, Umbellularia californica; the longer, slender leaves are most often used fresh. More potent than the Mediterranean leaves, they also contain umbellulone, which, according to the Field Guide to Herbs & Spices, can cause convulsive sneezing, headaches, and sinus irritation when inhaled deeply.

Bay leaves yield their flavor slowly, which explains their popularity in soups, stews, pickling brines, and marinades. A fundamental component of bouquet garni, bay leaves pair well with beef, poultry, fish, lamb, lentils, tomatoes, and beans

It's a personal preference, but I find the fresh California leaves too pungent; I'm partial to the smoother flavor of Turkish leaves for all uses. To string them on shish kabob skewers, soften dried leaves by soaking in warm water for 20-30 minutes. Dried bay leaves will keep for a year if stored in an airtight container away from heat. I buy large bags from Penzeys, and divide them among friends.

Bay leaf crusted pork roast

This recipe, from Everyday Food magazine (December 2006), uses bay leaves as an actual ingredient rather than a toss-into-the-pot seasoning. A coating like this would work well on a turkey roulade, too. Serves 8.


8 garlic cloves, peeled
8 dried bay leaves
Coarse salt and ground pepper
4 medium onions, peeled (root ends left intact), each cut into 8 wedges
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 pork rib roast with 8 ribs (4 1/2 to 5 pounds), backbone removed, ribs Frenched (*see note, below)
2 cups fresh parsley leaves
1 cup Dijon mustard


Preheat oven to 375°F.

Using a chef's knife, finely chop garlic and bay leaves together. Gather into a pile; sprinkle with 2 tsp coarse salt and 1/2 tsp ground pepper. Using the flat side of the knife blade, mash mixture into a paste. Set aside.

On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss onions with 2 Tbsp oil; season with salt and pepper. Push onions to the edges of baking sheet. Place pork in center of sheet, fatty side up; rub top with remaining oil, and press on garlic mixture, coating evenly.

Roast, dabbing occasionally with pan juices, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in center of meat (avoiding bones) registers 140°F (temperature will rise 10 to 15 degrees as roast rests), 65 to 75 minutes. (If browning too quickly, tent loosely with aluminum foil.) Transfer roast and onions to serving platter; let rest, loosely covered with foil, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, blend parsley and mustard until smooth; season with salt and pepper.

Cut roast into chops, and serve with mustard sauce.

*Note: Ask the butcher to leave some fat on top of the pork to keep it moist during roasting, and, for easier carving afterward, to remove the chine bone (or backbone). For an elegant presentation, have the butcher "French" the rib bones, which means to scrape off the gristle and fat.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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I just used bay leaf last night for osso buco. It is great for using in stew.

This sounds like a great recipe. I think I agree with you on the preference for Turkish bay leaves.

We grow our own bay leaves and use them both fresh and dried :) The aroma freshly picked is divine :) I am not sure what variety they are though. Here is a pic (of them dried and washed) :)


Sarina, thanks for sharing the photos. You're so lucky to live in a climate where you can grow your own bay leaves.

I think having bay leaves growing outside your door woould be one of the ultimate luxuries.

I like knowing that they "yield their flavor slowly." What a wonderful way of putting it, Lydia. Makes them sound so mysterious and worthy getting to know. . .

It seems you have a like-minded soul brother on the blogosphere:


What are the odds that you both posted about California Bay Leaves within a couple days of each other, for all appearances unaware of one another?

I luv the intertent.

Sean, thanks for being the matchmaker here. I had no idea.....!

Holy cow! And you went all out with a recipe and everything. I was just stunned to find out they were actually being sold! The California ones, that is.

I vote for the Turkish ones too.


I heard they can be used to mellow out foods that are over seasoned...

I am chiming in as one of those that actually do not have a single bay leaf in the cupboard. We do exist!

I am so glad I found you..I am so enjoying your site. I love Penzey's and my pantry is loaded with their spices and herbs and it is a gift I send to my brother and other cooks at the holidays. I am printing this recipe as I usually use them in soups, and goulash, stews, but never have tried them this way. I have been taking the bayleaves out of the bags and placing them in their large jars, do you think that is ok? Or should I stick with the bags they come in? I do it for storage space and ease. Thanks.

Winnie, as you can see, I'm a big fan of putting my bay leaves in jars!

I just ordered from Penzeys for my 1st time and this is my 1st posted comment to anyone. But I could not keep from sharing my excitement. Thank you for sharing Penzeys! I love bay leaves but finances are tight. Now I am rich in bay leaves. And now I know the Turkish ones are the most prized. Thanks. This was a blast.

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