I understand that in the days of long sea voyages, with fresh water at a premium, sea-water was used for cooking. Salted meat was a staple food of these voyages, and we know it was often very old, very hard and very salty indeed – so salty that the day’s ration was sometimes attached to a rope and towed behind the ship to reduce its saltiness. Then it was cooked in salt water, or at least a percentage of salt water. How palatable – and how salty – must it have been?
I also understand that fishermen occasionally also cook their catch in seawater, not out of necessity, but because they believe it enhances the flavour.
Although I had heard these stories, I had never actually seen sea-water given as the cooking liquid of choice until I discovered a recipe in the famous Alexis Soyer’s book The Pantropheon, or, History of Food and its Preparation (1853.) I don’t know if Soyer ever actually cooked the following recipe, but he suggests that was a dish enjoyed by the Ancient Romans.
Quarter of Wild Boar a la Thébaine.
Cook it in sea water with bay leaves. When very tender take off the skin, and serve with salt, mustard, and vinegar.
A little reading around this idea of using seawater as a cooking liquid led to some information on a ‘gastronomic delight’ from the Canary Islands called Patatas Arrugadas, or ‘wrinkled potatoes.’ This is a dish of unpeeled new potatoes cooked in seawater , then dried briefly over the heat, leaving them with a powdery, salty skin. A couple of other sources also suggested that these are also enjoyed in the Shetland and Orkney islands.
Patatas Arugadas would be an interesting recipe to follow around the world. It appears that it must have made its way from the Canaries, or Shetlands, or Orkneys, to Syracuse, NY, if The Complete Cook Book (Philadelphia, 1900), by Jennie Day Reese, is correct. Please let us all know if you have heard of them, eaten them, or know something about their history.
Hot Salt Potatoes.
In every locality there is always a favorite dish that once partaken of by "strangers within her gates," is forever connected with that particular city or place. Philadelphia scrapple is as well known "down east" as Boston's beans and brown bread, and in the central city of New York State, Syracuse, is served a tid-bit that outshines them all, and one which courts favor among the male citizens. The name of this dish is hot salt potatoes, prepared thus: Enough brine is bought at the salt yards to fill a kettle three-quarters full. Medium-sized smooth potatoes are scrubbed clean and put into the boiling brine, covered and left to boil until a straw will pierce the vegetables; then they are drained and served piping hot. When eating these they are never cut; the ends are pressed with the fingers, which bursts open the center, pop in a generous lump of good butter, and the delicious tid-bit will be relished. The outside will be covered with salt crystals, the inside mealy, white and permeated with a relishing seasoning.
Quotation for the Day.
Without the potato, the balance of European power might never have tilted north.