Not many plants can double as an ornamental shrub and a recipe ingredient, but the bay laurel qualifies.
The hardy evergreen tree has been honored since ancient times, as a crown for victors and an offering to the gods. It's also been valued by cooks, who don't serve the inedible leaves in dishes but use them to flavor stocks, stews, pickles and more.
Bundled with thyme and parsley, bay leaf makes up the classic bouquet garni used in many French soups and braised dishes. The leaves are used in Indian and Pakistani rice dishes and are a standard component of American pickling spice mixtures.
Dollar tree: The bay leaf is also one of the few ingredients that appears on U.S. currency. On the front of a $1 bill are sheaves of bay leaves from George Washington's portrait.
Here, bay leaf is part of the flavoring mix for poaching shrimp in a Spanish shrimp cocktail, drawn from Phaidon's "The Book of Tapas," by Simone and Ines Ortega. Instead of horseradish ketchup, the shrimp are adorned with tomato mayonnaise.
>Spanish Shrimp Cocktail
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 onion, coarsely chopped
6 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 pounds jumbo shrimp, deveined and peeled
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup light cream
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
3 lemons, halved, for serving
Lettuce leaves, for serving
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, for garnish
Put onion, carrots, peppercorns, bay leaf and a large pinch of salt in a large pot with enough water to cover shrimp (about two quarts). Bring to a boil.
Add shrimp, lower heat and cook for 1 minute. Take pot off heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain shrimp in colander and allow to cool.
Make sauce: Whip mayonnaise with cream, tomato paste, juice of 1 lemon and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Shrimp and sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated.
To serve: Place lettuce leaf on plate. Arrange 4 or more shrimp on leaf. Spoon sauce over shrimp. Or: Arrange shrimp on platter. Place sauce in small bowl at center, with spoon, and provide small plates so guests can serve themselves. Serve cold.