Thursday, November 8, 2012

California Bay Laurel

  As you drive past the gate, into Post Ranch, the right side of the road is flanked by tall California bay laurel trees.  This time of year they produce a small green fruit, called a bay nut, which turns red and purple as it ripens.  The California bay laurel had many historical uses, including: using the leaves to treat headaches and digestive issues, eating the roasted nut pits-which were believed to be a stimulant, eating the ripened fruit and using the leaves to keep insects away from stores or acorns and other food.   Today the trees are largely forgotten aside from the pleasant aroma they provide along local hiking trails.
  One reason many chefs shy away from our indigenous bay laurel is because it is quite strong.   I have heard the local bay laurel contains ten times the phenolic compounds of a true European Bay Leaf.   I have found that the tender young leaves are more similar in potency to a European bay leaf while the larger leaves have a strong flavor and spicy-tannic bite, which explains why they are said to have been used by early Spanish explorers as a dried condiment for roasted meats in place of black pepper.

  The season for fresh bay nuts is very short and I want to take advantage of them while I can.  Tonight we prepared wild boar tenderloins brined overnight with fresh bay laurel leaves and maple syrup.  We prepared a sauce by blanching the ripened bay-nut fruit and blending it with sea salt and local olive oil to create a bright green – aromatic puree.   The seeds from the fruit were roasted at 300 degrees until dark brown- then grated with cocoa butter, brown sugar, smoked salt and guajillo chile.  The resulting powder had the refreshing menthol quality of fresh bay- with the toasted-musky aroma of the roasted nut; it is a great compliment for the roasted boar.   Quickly charred fuyu persimmon and swiss chard from our garden with pumpkin seed goat cheese finished the dish.

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