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Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - On Sunday - For Matt’s six es­sen­tial rules for us­ing bay leaves head to de­li­cious.com.au.

@mattscra­vat MEATY DISHES @Mattscra­vat

BAY LEAVES are the burnt-or­ange flares of the herb world. Once, like curly pars­ley, they were ev­ery­where. And then they weren’t.

Maybe they fell out of favour along with French food as we be­came en­am­oured with other kitchens like Thai, Mex­i­can or Ital­ian, which don’t use them as much. Or maybe they just didn’t fit eas­ily into those lit­tle glass herb jars.

What­ever hap­pened, it’s time to bring back the bay as your bae. Here’s how to use the aro­matic leaves to bring a lit­tle of their mel­low, calm­ing fra­grance to your cook­ing.

The bay leaf mel­lows out the flavour of all man­ner of soups, stews and braises. Add a cou­ple of fresh leaves to the meat for your shep­herd’s pie or Bolog­nese or wrap them with a cou­ple of stalks of pars­ley and thyme sprigs to throw into boeuf Bourgignon. This lit­tle French bun­dle, the bou­quet garni, can be added to soups, stocks, poach­ing liq­uid for chicken and even to brais­ing lentils to add herby fra­grance.

The Span­ish are bolder still. Throw fresh bay leaves into a tray bake with chicken thighs, po­ta­toes, stock, sherry and loads of gar­lic. Or add some pa­prika, cherry toma­toes and slices of cap­sicum in­stead of the po­ta­toes if you want to bring some colour to the party.

PO­TA­TOES

Braise po­ta­toes, tightly packed in a cov­ered pan with a cou­ple of cups of chicken or veg­etable stock, a few smashed gar­lic cloves and a cou­ple of torn fresh bay leaves. This makes for fine spuds to go with grilled chicken. Yes, they do taste bet­ter tossed in but­ter and a lit­tle salt be­fore serv­ing.

THE GOOD OIL

Given their high oil con­tent, bay leaves do in­ter­est­ing things when used to wrap or sand­wich in­gre­di­ents for cook­ing. Try mak­ing skew­ers for the bar­be­cue with chunks of beef sep­a­rated by bay leaves like they do in Por­tu­gal, or even slip bay leaves into the slits of your Has­sel­back po­ta­toes to serve with roast chicken. (That’s a recipe from de­li­cious. you’ll find on­line at de­li­cious.com.au.) Bay leaves also work well with strong oily fish such as mack­erel whether it’s in a mari­nade or as a bed to roast the fish on.

SEAFOOD

Back play­ing a more re­strained role, bay leaves can also add a lovely easy fra­grance to more gen­tly flavoured seafood dishes such as a clas­sic Mediter­ranean seafood stew, or even braised cala­mari, where saf­fron and toma­toes are to the fore. They also help toma­toes and cap­sicums star in an Espelette pep­per-spiced Basque piper­rada, Gas­con pipérade, Provençale rata­touille or Ital­ian caponata.

It’s a mark of the bay leaf’s flex­i­bil­ity that it will add its fra­grance just as well when used in a more clas­sic French bisque and richer fish soups when used with shal­lots, tomato paste sweated in but­ter and fin­ished with co­gnac and a lit­tle cream.

SAVOURY AND CREAMY

Bay leaves love the rich fat­ti­ness of cream and milk, too. A clas­sic ex­am­ple is blan­quette de veau, an­other dish of Bur­gun­dian ori­gin that uses bay leaves, but here in a creamy sauce for a white veal ragoût. Also use bay leaves in any­thing from a more el­e­gant béchamel or a bread sauce, which is an es­sen­tial ac­com­pa­ni­ment for roast chicken at my place.

SWEET AND CREAMY

Bay leaves also play nicely with the sweet kids on the block. In­fuse bay leaves in the milk for cus­tard or make a bay-leaf panna cotta that will go per­fectly with straw­ber­ries – they love bay al­most as much as they love basil and black pep­per. Bay leaves con­tain sim­i­lar flavour com­pounds to those found in car­damom, rose­mary, nut­meg and cin­na­mon, so part­ner a bay cus­tard with sour rhubarb, or add the leaves to a sugar syrup when stew­ing apri­cots, or in an ice-cream to serve with car­damom-laced brown­ies.

DRINKS

Steep a cou­ple of lightly crushed fresh bay leaves in a mug of hot wa­ter for a lovely per­fumed tea that has a eu­ca­lypt or minty note, which goes well with the foil of a slice of lemon. Or take a longer ap­proach and in­fuse fresh bay leaves in a bot­tle of rum to use later in desserts and cock­tails.

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