You can't eat, sleep and dream about seafood everyday without a healthy dose of Old Bay running through your veins. The savory, complex spice mix so familiar to seafood lovers and shrimp boil aficionados around the globe adds a full-bodied flavor to every dish it touches.
But Old Bay is tough to find in European grocery stores. And just in case you're on holiday and craving a lovely seafood boil...or you're at home and out of the magic dust, I've created a list of the 6 best substitutes for Old Bay when you you just can't get your hands on that epic little can.
What's in Old Bay?
As you might suspect, Old Bay Seasoning originated in a seaside region - specifically, Baltimore, Maryland on the East Coast of the US. It was created around 1940 by Gustav Brunn, a German Jewish immigrant and spice-maker who fled Germany and started selling spices at the fish market in Baltimore. (If you want to read more about this trendsetter's remarkable story, check out this article from the NPR station in Washington DC for all the details.)
It is wildly popular blend of herbs and spices used in all sorts of shrimp boils, crab boils, crab cakes and casseroles in most parts of the United States. In fact, last summer Old Bay formed a collaboration with the popular Goldfish Cracker brand and created an Old Bay flavored Goldfish Cracker. The little buggers sold out nationwide in under 10 hours.
The popular spice blend contains an ingredient list that is top secret. But we do know that Mr. Brunn's unique flavor combination includes a few key ingredients, including:
- celery salt (celery seed + sea salt)
- red pepper
- black pepper
We're also pretty sure the main ingredients have a few of these spices in the supporting cast:
- bay leaves
- ground mustard seed
It's robust and complex and delicious on all sorts of seafood dishes and veggies.
How do you use Old Bay Seasoning?
The possible uses of Old Bay Seasoning are endless! Soaking up the savory flavors of this popular spice mix can be as simple as brushing your white fish fillet with melted butter and sprinkling it a dose of Old Bay, or adding it to melted butter and dipping your skewer of Argentine Grilled Shrimp.
But if you're really looking to make your seafood shine, try one of these Old Bay-flavored stunners:
What are the best Old Bay Seasoning substitutes?
After cooking with, and without, Old Bay for a few decades, I've developed some go-to substitutes for times when I don't have any of the spice mixture handy.
1. Cajun Spice Blend Seasoning
Pre-made Cajun Seasoning spice blends are a great substitute for Old Bay Seasoning. They share several common ingredients, and both offer a robust flavor profile, thought sometimes with more heat than Old Bay. So if you're sensitive to spice, start with ½ of the prescribed amount, then taste and adjust seasoning from there.
I've used several brands of cajun or creole seasoning mixes, my favorite is McCormicks Gourmet Cajun Seasoning. It's an excellent substitute for Old Bay and reasonably priced.
2. Seafood Seasoning
Your local grocery store likely carries a general seafood seasoning mixture near the fish counter, or in the dried spices aisle. Any blend of spices created specifically to season seafood will be a great option as a substitute for Old Bay. Paprika, celery salt, garlic and pepper are likely all included in the ingredient list, along with different spices that complement seafood.
Red Lobster Signature Seafood Seasoning has been my go-to pre-made spice mix for years. It's a good Old Bay Seasoning substitute in any recipe, and can be used as a 1-for-1 substitute for Old Bay in recipes.
3. Crab Boil Seasoning
Powdered crab boil seasoning (NOT the liquid mix) is another great option if you need a seafood seasoning in place of Old Bay. Most crab boil spice mixes will include paprika, salt, red pepper and lemon juice concentrate, among other herbs and spices. This is a particularly delicious mix if you're making a seafood recipe.
Zatarain's Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil is my preferred ready-made mix for a crab boil. It's a mellow, tasty, well-rounded mixture that never lets me down. Use crab boil as a 1-for-1 substitute for Old Bay.
(This spice blend does include the flavor enhancer, MSG, which has never been an issue for me. Just wanted to make you aware!)
Another great option when you need an Old-Bay-like spice mixture, is to make a homemade version. I keep a small jar of homemade blackened seasoning in my spice drawer - it's the perfect mix of herbs and spices and adds a lovely heat to any dish it touches.
This blackened seasoning can be used 1-for-1 as a substitute for Old Bay in your recipe.
5. Seasoned Salt
If your spice drawer includes a jar of Seasoning Salt, you already have one of the best options for creating your own seafood spice at home. Seasoned salt doesn't usually have an aggressive spicy flavor, so you may want to add a pinch of cayenne to the mix, along with a pinch of celery salt or celery seed, if you have it on hand.
Good old Lawry's is my go-to seasoning blend at home. It's solid and reliable on all sorts of dishes, including seafood, veggies, and crispy french fries.
Seasoned salt should be used 1-for-1 as a substitute for Old Bay.
6. Celery Salt, Paprika and Cayenne Pepper
If you're fresh out of Old Bay and any of the seasoning blend options above, let's whip up our own homemade Old Bay Seasoning substitute, shall we?
For each teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning called for in a recipe, substitute ¼ teaspoon of celery salt, ¼ teaspoon of paprika, a pinch of cayenne and a pinch of black pepper. Mix and use in place of one full teaspoon of Old Bay.
This simple ingredient list is probably already in your spice cabinet and a great substitute for Old Bay Seasoning in a pinch. To store, keep your spice mix in an airtight container for up to 9 months.
Whether you make your own seasoning blend, or reach for a ready-made option in your spice drawer, now you have 6 great options for creating a substitute for the classic Old Bay Seasoning.
Have you tried any of them? Have you tried all of them? Which one is your favorite?
Let me know in the comments below! Can't wait to hear from you.