Shrimp is one of those foods that has a strong flavor in its own right, which is a big part of its appeal. That flavor by itself is not enough to keep it from being bland, but it will not go well with everything in your spice cabinet. When seasoning shrimp, you will want to use those specific herbs and spices that complement its distinctive oceanic flavor rather than those that might try to dominate it. Basically, any seasoning that goes well with other seafood will work with shrimp. Avoid blandness by using some of the best spices for shrimp listed below.
Old Bay Seasoning
In some parts of the U.S. — Maryland in particular — Old Bay Seasoning is considered the main seasoning for shrimp and other types of seafood, especially shellfish. While it is most often associated with crab cakes, it can greatly enhance the flavor of shrimp as well. It brings earthiness and complexity along with a spicy sweetness that comes from its long list of pungent spices. Use it for a shrimp boil, in breading for deep-fried shrimp or simply add it to a standard cocktail sauce recipe. Along with many other spices, Old Bay Seasoning contains black pepper, mace, and cayenne pepper, among other ingredients.
Lemon zest or peel
Citrus is considered a natural pairing for shrimp and other seafood with lemon being the most popular option in Western cuisine. The sharp, pungent citrus oils contained in lemon zest and peel perfectly complement the iodine flavor of shrimp. The zest of the lemon is the outer portion of the peel where the fragrant oils are in their highest concentration. You can add a teaspoon or two of julienned or grated zest to stir-fried shrimp or toss the whole peel into a sauce for shrimp.
Dill is another traditional flavoring for shrimp and other seafood. It has what many consider to be a lemon flavor, which is why it goes so well with shrimp’s natural brininess. It is a delicate herb, which allows it to enhance shrimp without masking it. Its subtlety also allows it to work alongside most other herbs and spices including those on this list.
As the universal savory seasoning, garlic in all its forms pairs well with shrimp as well as with everything else on this list. While garlic cannot be said to work well in all seafood, it adds a strong umami punch to almost any shrimp dish. Garlic works best when you allow it to be the primary seasoning with all the others relegated to the background.
As with all savory foods, most shrimp dishes taste better when you add a little heat to them. Chili peppers show up in many shrimp dishes and can enhance not only the flavor of shrimp but the pink color as well. Add your chili peppers in dried and powdered form or use chopped fresh peppers, like jalapeño pepper.
Blackening is a cooking technique invented by Louisiana native and celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme. It has become a part of Cajun culinary lore despite the fact that it is relatively modern. Blackening seasoning is the spice blend used to coat food (usually, seafood like shrimp) so that it can be blackened. Blackening seasoning will usually include easily browned and charred spices like onion powder and garlic powder along with peppercorns, chili pepper, and salt. The cooking process involves liberally coating the food with the blackening seasoning and then cooking it in butter in a hot cast iron skillet. The spices char and the butter browns, which gives the food a dark appearance.