EnlargeCredit: Todd Coleman
If the soft-scented Mediterranean bay leaf is the nice boy next door, then assertive California bay, Umbellularia californica, is the dangerous guy in the leather jacket. The leaf packs such an aromatic punch—think allspice, cinnamon, menthol—that just walking by a tree will turn your head. I forage the herb and add it sparingly to pilafs, potatoes, and seafood. In a classic dish like salmon and scallops à la nage, just a small amount imparts palate-awakening flavor.
Fresh California bay leaves, $73 for a 1-pound pack at Marxfoods.com; 866/588-6279 Dried California bay leaves, $5.99 for a 1-ounce bag at Thespicehouse.com; 827/328-3711