The Nickel Pincher: DIY Old Bay Seasoning

Summer is the perfect time to indulge in sustainable seafood, seasoned, of course, with this DIY Old Bay Seasoning recipe.

August 14, 2013

Jazz up your summer crab boils with your own homemade seafood seasoning.

One of my earliest memories of a special party meal was sitting perched on the radiator on the "back" side of the dining room table when I was just a few years old, stuffing myself silly with shrimp boiled in beer. Three decades later, I enjoyed a similar meal, featuring crabs this time, and entertained by my small son, who was absolutely entranced with the wooden mallet he'd been provided with and pounded crab after crab into oblivion on the newspaper-covered table (not sure he ate much, but he sure had fun!). There was a common thread that joined these meals: the distinctive aroma and savory taste of Old Bay Seasoning, that iconic seasoning developed in the Chesapeake Bay region in the early part of the 20th century.


While it's perfect for flavoring shrimp and crabs, Old Bay is also great with fish, chicken, eggs, dips, chowders, potatoes, and garlic bread. It's hard to beat for seasoning homemade snacks like potato sticks, kale chips, root-veggie chips, and popcorn. True devotees have even been known to flavor cookies and ice cream with it, but I've never gone that far. Sure, the mix is widely available, but if you want to make a variation with less salt, you have a spice allergy, or you just want an organic version, it's quite simple to make your own.

Traditional Old Bay–Style Seasoning Mix

Yields about ½ cup


2 Tablespoons bay leaf powder

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)

2 Tablespoons celery salt (substitute celery powder to make a salt-free version)

1 Tablespoon dry mustard powder

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground mace

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon


1. Grind bay leaves to a powder in a spice grinder, coffee mill, or mortar and pestle and measure the required amount. Add crushed red pepper (if using) and grind that into a fine powder as well.

2. Transfer all to a bowl. Blend in powdered and ground ingredients.

3. Store well-blended mixture in a jar with a tight lid. Don't worry if you are missing one or two of the spices (or prefer not to use one because of an allergy). Just use everything else; it will still be very tasty.


Mom's Beer Shrimp

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as an appetizer


1 pound raw, unshelled shrimp (I buy wild-caught U.S. shrimp but there are other sustainable alternatives)

3 12-ounce bottles good lager beer

2 Tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning

½ cup organic butter (from grass-fed/pastured cows if possible)

1 organic lemon


1. Combine the beer and the seasoning in a large pot and bring to a boil. Melt the butter in a small saucepan on low (or in a glass measuring cup in the microwave). Cut the lemon into wedges.

2. Add the shrimp to the seasoned beer, cover the pot, and boil for 3 to 4 minutes—just until the shrimp turn pink all the way through.

3. Scoop the shrimp out of the beer with a slotted spoon and serve immediately with small bowls of melted butter and lemon wedges on the side. If you want to be traditional, just pile the shrimp in the center of a newspaper-covered table or serve it in individual bowls. Either way, provide empty bowls for the shells. If you have any leftover shrimp (this is rarely an issue in my house), they are also good cold.

Shrimp or Crab "Boil"

Serves 4 people


1 gallon water (or part water, part beer—though I personally prefer to drink the beer)

½ cup Old Bay Seasoning (yup, that says "cup")

8 medium organic potatoes, quartered

2 large organic onions, cut into wedges

8 ears fresh, organic corn, cut into 2- to 3-inch lengths

1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 2-inch lengths


1 pound raw, unshelled shrimp or 2 pounds cleaned live crabs


1. Combine the liquid and the Old Bay in a large stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat.

2. Add the potatoes, cover, and cook for 8 minutes.

3. Add the onions and sausage and cook for 5 minutes.

4. Add the corn and cook for 7 minutes.

5. If using shrimp, add those and cook for 3 to 4 minutes—just until the shrimp turn pink all the way through. If using crab, add that and cook for 7 minutes.

6. Scoop out and drain everything and serve hot on a huge platter or in a mound in the center of a newspaper-covered table. Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges if desired.

Zippy Whole Wheat Cheddar Biscuits

Makes 16 biscuits


2 cups organic whole wheat pastry flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1½ teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning

¼ cup organic butter (from grass-fed, pastured cows if possible)

1 cup organic whole milk

4 ounces shredded organic sharp cheddar cheese


1. Preheat the oven to 475°F and line a baking sheet with a silicone sheet or grease it with butter.

2. Combine the dry ingredients and use two knives, a pastry cutter, or a food processor to cut the butter into them (it should look like cornmeal when you are done). Add the milk and cheese and stir until just blended.

3. Drop by spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet.

4. Bake until they just start to brown, about 12 minutes. Serve hot or cold.