Most Americans probably have Old Bay stashed in the pantry. When it comes to seasoning seafood, this Maryland-based spice mix is unparalleled in its popularity and its just-the-right-amount-of-kick flavor.
But what exactly is the “je ne sais quoi” behind this handy-dandy, savory sprinkle tin? As it turns out, the recipe for Old Bay is as shrouded in secrecy as the syrup mix for Coca-Cola.
Don’t take my word for it. Check the ingredients list on your box, or take a look at the product website. The contents are listed as celery salt (salt, celery seed), spices (including red pepper and black pepper) and paprika. Hmm. But aren’t celery salt and paprika spices, too? Come on, Old Bay. You’re playing with us.
Not to be deterred, many culinary minds have worked to uncover the exact formula for this favorite blend. From Epicurious.com, the recipe for homemade Old Bay contains a slew of spices, some that you probably know and some that you may not. Cayenne pepper and dry mustard make the list, as do mace and cardamom. All told, the folks at Epicurious prescribe 11 different spices for the mix. Ask Food.com people, and they will tell you there are 14, one of which is cinnamon. So, even the most educated palates disagree.
And fall short, as it would appear. There are actually 18 spices and herbs that Old Bay marries to make its iconic blend. It’s been that way since 1939 when immigrant Gustav Brunn narrowly escaped Nazi Germany and landed in the US. Using a small spice grinder that he brought with him, Brunn created Old Bay seasoning. The rest is culinary history.
Despite disagreeing over the recipe, food professionals and food lovers alike can agree that the distinctive taste kicks up a range of food – not just your low-country boil. These days, you can find Old Bay in some interesting (and downright strange) places.
One such place is Maryland’s Flying Dog brewery, where the brewmasters have crafted a seasonal Old Bay-infused summer ale. (Speaking of booze, many bars salt the rim of Bloody Mary glasses with the seasoning, and others use it in their homemade Mary mix.) Head over to Ellicott City, Maryland, and stop into Sweet Cascades Chocolatier. There, you’ll find an assortment of truffles, the signature version being a dark chocolate morsel spiked with (you guessed it) Old Bay.
The love isn’t limited to Maryland state lines. Snack food company Herr’s, operating out of Pennsylvania, offers up bags of Old Bay potato chips and has been doing so for 30 years. All of these things sound intriguing, if not yummy.
And although Old Bay has made a foray into sweets via the chocolate truffles, other purveyors of fine foods (or peculiar foods, perhaps) have tried to bring the spice further into the dessert fold. Rumor has it that there is actually such a thing as an Old Bay-spiced crab cake ice cream sandwich. If you ever find one, let me know how it is.
If you are looking for some ways to use up your Old Bay, check out the delicious recipes below.
Cover Photo: digitalreflections / Shutterstock.com