The first time I looked for Old Bay seasoning in my favorite grocery store, I was perplexed. It wasn’t on the spice aisle. It wasn’t near the seafood. Doesn’t anyone like Old Bay in Rogue Valley?
Apparently customers of Food 4 Less either really, really like Old Bay, or the spice company cut an exclusive display deal with Sherm Olsrud. There, smack-dab in the middle of the meat section wasn’t a mere shelf dedicated to Old Bay but an entire tower devoted to the distinctive yellow can in all its various shapes and sizes, along with several other seasoning products manufactured by McCormick & Co., of Hunt Valley, Md.
Because I wasn’t planning a massive crab boil, my enthusiasm for Old Bay may seem a little odd. But apparently, like more and more fans of Old Bay, I’d discovered that the mixture of salt, peppers, paprika, mustard, celery seed, bay leaves, mace, cloves and cardamom adds a distinctive layer of flavor appropriate for a variety of dishes: tuna-fish salad, egg salad, potato salad, garlic mayonnaise for dipping artichokes and the obvious seafood.
I’m not usually a fan of seasoning blends and even enjoy concocting and grinding up my own. But like the Indian staple garam masala, Old Bay has so many ingredients that it becomes somewhat time-consuming to replicate from individual spices.
As the East Coast enjoys the high season for its beloved blue crabs, shipments of its crab seasoning are traveling far and wide, according to a recent story by The Baltimore Sun. Sales of Old Bay, which this summer is celebrating its 70th birthday, have increased 30 percent in recent decades, according to a spokeswoman for McCormick & Co. Copious consumer tips and recipes can be found on the Web site Old Bay Nation.
Old Bay has long been used in batter for fried chicken, as a dusting for corn on the cob and as an accent to snack foods like popcorn. But fans more recently attest to Old Bay in Mexican-inspired cuisine, such as fish tacos, sprinkled on macaroni and cheese and folded into scrambled eggs. In its home state, there’s little that Old Bay doesn’t go on, experts say.
How do you like your Old Bay? If you’re new to the seasoning, try it in one of its most common forms, like this clarified butter for dipping seafood.
Clarified Butters for Seafood
1 pound unsalted butter (about 3 cups; see directions)
4 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
2 medium shallots, peeled and finely minced (4 tablespoons)
4-inch piece lemon grass from the white end, tough outer layers removed, finely minced (4 tablespoons)
3- or 4-inch ginger root, pureed (2 tablespoons)
To clarify the butter: Place it in a large saucepan over low heat. Cook without stirring until it has liquefied, then skim foam off top (discarding foam) until butter is clear enough to see through to milky solids at pan’s bottom. Remove from heat and strain clear butter into a separate container. Pour 1 cup butter into two ramekins and serve warm.
To make Old Bay-flavored butter: In a small saucepan over medium low heat, cook 1 cup clarified butter with the Old Bay seasoning for several minutes. Pour butter into two ramekins and serve warm.
To make lemon grass-flavored butter: Combine 1 cup clarified butter, the minced shallots, lemon grass and ginger puree in a small saucepan; cook for several minutes over medium-low heat, allowing flavors to meld. Divide equally between two ramekins; keep warm until ready to serve. These flavored butters can be made up to 2 days in advance.
Makes about 1 cup.