We have long been ambivalent about bay leaves.
When we mentioned offhand that we "sort of don't believe in" bay leaves as part of the note down within a recipe late last year, we were surprised by how many comments we received coming to the bay leaf's defense. Many of you wanted to know how the herb had done us wrong.
Here's how we fell out of love with bay leaves, and how we did a test this week to determine if we're just flat-out wrong.
When we try out a new recipe, we are, for the most part, dutiful recipe followers. If a recipe calls for an obscure ingredient, we will hunt it down, even if that means multiple grocery store stops and lots of phone calls. And, because many recipes over the years have called for bay leaves, we've always purchased them, always fresh, never dried.
Here's how it always seems to go with bay leaves: We buy a pack and use one or two bay leaves in a recipe. We're never sure what contribution the leaf is making. We can barely smell it on its own, much less detect it in a soup, stew or broth. Nonetheless, we toss it in, per the recipe. The rest of the pack sits unused in the fridge until the leaves become brittle. We trash the old dead leaves. Next time there's a recipe that calls for bay leaves? Wash, rinse, repeat.
But the notes we got from you guys -- how you love bay leafs and consider them essential -- got us thinking. Are we wrong about bay leaves? Have we been "meh" on them for naught?
We decided to find out the best way we knew how. We made chicken stock.
We decided to make two batches of chicken stock -- one with bay leaves and one without -- in order to do a blind taste test. Since we were making two batches, we opted to make our chicken stock in the pressure cooker, to save a bit of time.
We make a lot of stock, and almost always have some homemade stock in the freezer, but this was our first time making stock in the pressure cooker. The process is incredibly easy. Throw in all the ingredients, seal the cooker, bring it to pressure, and then let it do its thing for a half hour. The stock has the flavor of something that's been simmering on the stove for far longer than that.
So our two batches of chicken stock were identical, except one included a bay leaf. Actually, we doubled the bay leaf quotient to really see if we could taste a difference.
The stocks were made and chilled, the fat was skimmed. We got two identical bowls, slapped a sticker on the bottom of one of them and filled them with stock. We spun them around in the microwave to heat them up -- and so we wouldn't know which was which.
Both stocks were very good, and the initial tastes of both were nearly identical. But one of the stocks had a deeper finish, the kind of taste you feel in the back of your mouth, after you already think you've tasted everything there is to taste in the bowl. It was a very subtle difference, but it was there. Turns out the stock with the deeper finish was the one that had had bay leaves.
So we could discern a difference. But are we converts to #TeamBayLeaf?
Maybe? Honestly, were hoping for more of a difference. We'd wanted to sample both broths, then realize the error of our non-bay leaf ways, and smash the inferior bowl to the ground, sceaming, "We've been fools!" (There is not enough dramatic smashing in our house.)
Instead, we kind of shrugged. There was a somewhat noticeable difference, but we didn't consider this a clear win for the bay leaf.
We're taking the rest of the bay leaves we purchased and stowing them in the freezer. We'll haul them out again when a recipe calls for them. Or maybe even when we next make stock.
What's your take? What are we missing? Please educate us, bay leaf fans!
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Makes 3 quarts
3 1/2 quarts cold water
3 1/2 pounds chicken wings
2 leeks, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 parsley sprigs
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
The stock can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.