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Best Bang for Your Bay Leaf

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2012

How best to extract this herb's flavor?

Most recipes that call for bay leaves add them to the pot early on and leave them in for the duration of cooking—sometimes as long as several hours. But does it really take that long to extract this herb’s flavor? To find out, we simmered bay leaves in tomato sauce and in lightly salted water (to eliminate the distraction of competing tastes) for varying lengths of time. In both liquids, the bay leaf’s herbal notes were noticeable in as little as five minutes, but it took about an hour for the full spectrum of its more than 50 flavor compounds to become apparent. The moral of the story: Feel free to add bay leaves to dishes with cooking times as short as a few minutes, but to really maximize their flavor, simmer them for a full hour.

Don't Leave Them Out

Even quick-cooled dishes benefit from bay leaves.