When I was growing up in the metro New York area, my Cousin Martin was growing up in Maryland.
Several times a year, we packed up the car and drove south to visit. My father loved to drive, and, even more, loved to discover new routes to the same old places. A detour of 50 miles was perfectly acceptable, if the road proved interesting or scenic, or if we found a shack with great food along the way.
As we motored through Delaware into Maryland, the road stayed the same but the food changed.
We were driving through crab country.
Every little roadside eatery sold crab cakes, and every concession stand at the highway rest stops sold Old Bay Seasoning. It was the best souvenir of our travels, and my mother always picked up a tin on the way home.
Those tins my mother bought fifty years ago looked exactly like the one on my spice rack today. Developed as a seasoning for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, Old Bay's signature product hasn't changed since 1939.
The proportion of spices in Old Bay Seasoning remains a secret, but the ingredients are listed: celery salt (salt, celery seed), spices (including mustard, red pepper, black pepper, bay leaves, cloves, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon) and paprika.
Sure, you can use it on blue crabs, but Old Bay earns its keep in The Perfect Pantry by being far more versatile. Add some to meatloaf, deviled eggs, potato salad, burgers, lobster rolls, grilled salmon, or Bloody Marys. Or, get even more creative with coconut split pea soup, crab and andouille jambalaya, zucchini crab cakes, turkey "steak", shrimp and chorizo, or smoked salmon bisque.
I've written a bit about this iconic seasoning before, so the nice folks at Old Bay recently sent me samples of their newest products to try. Three seasoning blends tweak the basic formula with garlic and herbs, lemon and herbs, and blackened peppers. All delicious, but the one that most appeals to me is Old Bay 30% Less Sodium Seasoning, which took a basic egg salad to a whole new level.
New England shrimp boil
Really, you don't need a recipe for egg salad, so try this shrimp boil, one of several variations on the theme available on the Old Bay web site. This one comes from renowned seafood chef Jasper White, owner of the Summer Shack restaurants in Boston. If you can't find the Portuguese chourico, substitute chorizo or any spicy sausage. Serves 6 generously.
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
2 qts chicken broth or stock (homemade or low-sodium store-bought)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
4 Tbsp Old Bay Seasoning, divided
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1-1/2 lbs red or yellow small new potatoes
1 lb small boiling or cippolini onions, peeled, left whole (or use frozen pearl onions)
1 lb chourico or linguica sausage, or chicken chourico, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 ears fresh corn, shucked and cut into 2-inch pieces (omit if it's not corn season)
30 small littleneck clams, scrubbed and drained
2-1/2 lbs unpeeled extra-jumbo shrimp (16-20 count)
2 lemons, cut into wedges
Heat oil in a 12-quart stockpot on medium heat. Add garlic; cook gently for 2 minutes without browning. Add chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, 3 Tbsp of the Old Bay, and pepper. Bring to a boil.
Stir in potatoes. Return to boil. Cook, covered, 5 minutes. Add onions and sausage. Cook, covered, 5 minutes. Add corn (if available) and clams. If ingredients are not covered by broth, add up to 2 cups water to cover. Cook, covered, 10 minutes or until clams open and corn is tender, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp. Return to boil, stirring gently. Cover. Remove from heat. Let stand 5 to 8 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink.
Drain cooking liquid. Pour contents of pot into large serving bowl or platter. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp Old Bay. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.
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