Saturday, November 19, 2016

Feuille de Laurier – The Bay Leaf, the Laurel Leaf and the Bay Leaf in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Bay leaves with its flowers and berries.

The Bay Leaf in the French Kitchen.
The bay leaf, also called the  laurel leaf, is one of the most used spices in French cuisine. Bay leaves will be in recipes for soups, stews, sauces, as well as in roasted and baked dishes.  In French cuisine, bay leaves are far more often in the recipe than they are listed on the menu. Bay leaves will, of course, be in pickling brine and different kinds of vinegar. 
Pickled Brussels sprouts
Using vinegar, bay leaves, mustard seeds, coriander, cumin, celery salt and garlic.
The leaf from the bay/laurel tree is aromatic, and in France, it is an essential component of the classic bouquet garni which at its simplest is parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. The bittersweet, aromatic bay leaves impart their poignant flavor in a variety of dishes and that makes bay leaves an essential spice cupboard ingredient. Also on the upside bay leaves are one of the few herbs that do not lose their flavor when dried, and dried is how 95% of western cooks and chefs usually store a bay leaf.
A bouquet garni accompanied by onions and garlic
Nevertheless, fresh bay leaves with their lighter bouquet are becoming more widely available; and despite the differences in strength the uses for both are the same and the outcome is the same. All that is required is a gentle hand that balances the strength of the dried leaf in a recipe with the more mildly scented fresh leaf.
Pasta sauce with fresh bay leaves.
Bay leaves are essential in many French pâtés and in nearly all pickling marinades. Long cooking draws out the flavors and scents of this herb and most braised, poached and stewed dishes benefit from the addition of a bay leaf, as do soups, stocks, and risottos. French chefs will add a bay leaf when braising red or pickled cabbage, as well as to a poaching liquid for fish, or to infuse the milk for a custard or rice pudding.

Bay Leaves on French Menus:

Filet d'Alose Désarête et Grille à la Feuille de Laurier – A filet of Allis Shad, a tasty freshwater fish. On this menu listing, it is deboned and grilled over bay leaves. Allis is a tasty but bony fish, and here the French word “désarête”  advises the diner that the restaurant will have removed the bones; hopefully every one of them.
In the picture it is Allis Shad to the fore
 and Twaite Shad to the rear.

Palombe Rôtie à la Feuille de Laurier – Woodpigeon, also called ramier in French, roasted over bay leaves. Woodpigeons will only be on the menu during the limited period when they may be hunted. Ordinary pigeons, also called the pigeon biset are raised for the table like poultry and will be on French menus throughout the year. BTW: Palombe was the name that Picasso gave to his daughter,

Saint Pierre de l’Atlantique Rôti aux Feuilles de Laurier Sous la Peau, Marinade d'Artichauts et Compote de Girolles St Peter’s fish, John Dory in English, from the Atlantic,  roasted in its skin with bay leaves.  It is served with marinated artichokes and a dish, nearly a jam, made from wild Chanterelle-Girolle mushrooms.
Saint Pierre, John Dory.
Poulette du Gers Rôtie, Pommes Grenailles Confites et Jus à la Feuille de Laurier –  Roast Gers Chicken served with small new potatoes cooked until they are almost a jam. All is accompanied by the chicken’s natural cooking juices flavored with bay leaves.  The poultry from Ger are Label Rouge, red label poultry; they are some of the most highly rated chickens and turkeys in France. Red label poultry will spend 95% of their lives as free range poultry and are raised free of antibiotics and growth hormones.  Gers was part of the region of the Midi-Pyrenees which since 1-1-2016 has joined with Languedoc-Roussillon to become the new super region of Occitanie.

Grenailles may be translated in your French-English dictionary as pebbles, but on your menu, it will be indicating small new potatoes. These are small, early, mostly “ratte” new potatoes picked for the unique buttery and nutty taste as well as their texture. The leading suppliers of one or other of the potato varieties used for Grenailles potatoes include the island of Noirmoutier, just off the coast of the department of Vendee in the region of Pays-de-la-Loire.  Other grenailles come from the island of Île de Ré in the department of Charente-Maritime a department that was part of Poitou-Charentes and since 1-1-2016 is part of the new super-region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. The largest supplies of grenailles come from the area around Le Touquet that was part of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and is now part of the new super region of Hauts-de-France

Pomme de terre “rattes."
Your French-English dictionary may translate ratte as a rat or a mouse. However, that was the descriptive name given when these potatoes first appeared in the markets.  Worry not, large or small these are delicious potatoes and have no connection to mice or rats.
Pomme de terre rattes.
Daurade Grillée, Citron et Feuille de Laurier – Gilthead Sea- Bream grilled with lemon and bay leaves.
The Bay Leaf as a sign of power and knowledge.
In ancient Greece, a crown of laurel leaves was awarded to winners at the second of the ancient Olympic games; in the first games, the winners received a crown of olive leaves. The usage of the leaves in floral crowns changed often.  Certainly,  there were no  medals at the ancient Olympic  games.  Later the Romans began to award laurel (bay leaf) crowns to their leaders.  Julius Caesar wore a laurel wreath as a symbol of his supremacy. Later emperors and kings were crowned with bejeweled golden crowns of laurel leaves. The Latin name for the Bay Leaf or Laurel Leaf is Laurus Nobilis, hence laurel leaves. Napoléon crowned himself emperor with a gold laurel leaf crown; see the picture below.  Following on those traditions came a new tradition where winners and leaders were awarded the title of laureate though they were awarded no crown. Today, the French high school diploma is the baccalauréat. Nobel Prize winners are called Nobel Laureates. In the UK the mark of honor given to the country’s appointed poet is the title of poet laureate.  In music, you will see orchestras that have composer laureates. The humble bay leaf in your kitchen has been raised up to the Laurel Leaf, and its award signifies a winner.
Emperor Napolean I with his laurel crown.

The bay leaf’s origins are Mediterranean, but it is now grown all over the world. The bay leaf is part of Asian cuisines from Vietnam to China and onto Japan and India. In India, the bay leaf is a critical ingredient in most curries.  In the cuisine of the Caribbean including Cuba, bay leaves play an important role just as they do in the cuisines of Central and South America. The bay leaf, or if you prefer the laurel leaf is important in nearly every national kitchen.

There are a number of family members in the bay leaf family, but the one most used in cooking is the Laurus Nobilis.  It is the same Laurus Nobilis that the goldsmith copies to create the gold bay leaves that can crown an emperor.

The Bay leaf in the language of its neighbors.

(Catalan - llorer or llor), (Dutch - laurir), (German – lorbeer), (Italian – alloro), (Spanish – laurel or lauro).
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016

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