In spite of their ancient Olympic history on the heads of champions, bay leaves are often the unsung heroes of the spice rack. They don't announce their presence, commanding your palate's attention, in the same way that oregano and ginger do; nor do bay leaves have the showy colors of paprika and cinnamon.
Ironically, the seemingly shy bay laurel leaf provides a flavorful backdrop to many a savory dish -- with a few additional benefits as well.
Traditionally in centuries past, bay leaves' properties have been associated with everything from providing good luck & protection to easing stomach woes to driving away pests. From a culinary standpoint, you have exceedingly little to lose and a lot to gain by throwing a bay leaf or two in the pot.
A word to the wise: When using dried bay leaves, "bruise" them lightly before including them in your dish in order to release the plant's oils. If the leaves hardly have any scent, throw 'em out. An herb-turned-to-dust on your spice shelf will remain an herb-turned-to-dust in your food. Also, be sure to remove any leaves before serving the finished dish, particularly for young children. (Safety first!)
If you'd like to experiment with bay leaves' subtle yet complex flavor, here's a recipe from Messina Hof that combines freshwater crawfish with saltwater crab -- a shellfish medley which bay leaves perfectly complement: Crawfish Crab Cakes with Beurre Blanc & Pepper Coulis.
Celebrate your own culinary victory!