Add one bay leaf


My current student assistant, Jake, is thinking about moving out on his own, and is very excited about it. He is hunting for the ideal first-kitchen setup: he already has a microwave, so he’s going to get a toaster oven, and probably a hot plate, and a slow cooker.



Well, my god! What can’t you do with a slow cooker?



I lent him my slow-cooker cookbook, the #1 New York Times best-seller “Fix It And Forget It” (what a terrible name for a book!), just to give him some ideas. He’s pretty excited about the idea of pot roasts, and chicken, and stew, and chili, that pretty much make themselves (which is the whole charm of the slow cooker, of course).



I was describing my various pot-roast attempts to him, then said: “Do you have any bay leaves in the house?”



“Any what?” he said uncertainly.



Well, to be fair, neither did I until I was at least in my thirties. I considered that they were a kind of joke, or hoax. “Add one bay leaf.” Really? One little frail-looking bay leaf? And it’s gonna do something magical to the pot roast, or the stew, or the whatever?



But it does. There’s a fragrance, or an earthiness, to it. Bay, after all, is laurel. The Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece used to breathe the smoke of burning laurel to put herself into a trance. Most of the Mediterranean cultures cook with it (cautiously, one bay leaf at a time). There’s gotta be something in there.



The only way to find out, really, is to make a pot roast without adding a bay leaf.



And I am reluctant to do that.



It’s the one thing necessary, to quote Jesus. It’s the magical ingredient. It’s the lucky charm that makes your pot roast tender and succulent and fragrantly delicious.



Who are you to doubt three thousand years of culinary tradition?



Add one bay leaf.


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

2 Responses to Add one bay leaf

  1. starproms says:

    Yes, it is a magic ingredient. Why not buy or grow a whole bay tree – extremely pretty and aromatic.

    • The house in which I grew up had two huge laurel trees in front. We had no idea what they were. Even as a kid, however, I was fascinated by the shiny leaves. Now (fifty years later) I know what they were . . .

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