Friday, June 22, 2012

Cooking with Seawater.


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 Th├ębaine.
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.
Michael Pollan.

10 comments:

Mercy said...

As it happens, I grew up in Syracuse.Syracuse was a HUGE salt producer in the 19th century, it sits on an underground brine lake. That's why one of the towns that's now a part of it was called 'Salina' --and why the land was leased from the Onondaga tribe in the first place.

Salt potatoes started as the salt-yard workers' lunch --they'd take the little potatoes with them and cook them actually in the salt pans. Nowadays we don't pop them or put a pat of butter on them, we dip them in melted butter instead. Especially eaten at barbecue picnics or any time in the summer when you're eating things like corn on the cob and grilled steak and/or burgers

Mercy said...

I also forgot to say, they are EXTREMELY YUMMY!

The Old Foodie said...

Thankyou SO much for this, Mercy! Insider knowledge, a bit of history, and a Yummy recommendstion - what more could I ask from a reader! I had no idea about the salt industry connection.

Nick Trachet said...

Purified saewater is now being marketed in Holland, for the foodies and gastronomic ccooks, under the name of "zeesap" (sea juice). Three euros for a bottle of 1,5 liter!

Les said...

I'm far from the sea here in Oklahoma could a brine made from sea salt work just as well?

The Old Foodie said...

I'm sure it would, Les. I understand from another correspondent that in some areas, new potatoes are sold along with packets of salt for just that reason. Sound good, dont they?

Mercy said...

Yes, that's what we do in Syracuse these days --but with regular salt, not sea salt. And yeah, they're sold together, although my parents always said it was more salt than actually needed for the nice crust.

Now I'm in Germany, so no kits. :) I do it by eye, but I can ask my mother if she knows how much salt she adds.

Anonymous said...

Here on the New England coast in the USA, cooking lobster in seawater is an old tradition, probably borne out of necessity, but now the preferred method for many seafood lovers. Along the coast of Maine, lobster "pounds" are numerous; here, they cook the lobsters outdoors in vats of seawater over wood-fired stoves. Served "in the rough" -- at a picnic table, with only a cracker (to open the shell) and a pick to get the meat out of the shell, with perhaps a little melted butter, this is divine summer eating. Cold beer or chilled white wine.

Seawater has a unique flavor; salty, of course, but there is something else to it that is just perfect with the lobster.

Anonymous said...

Here on the New England coast in the USA, cooking lobster in seawater is an old tradition, probably borne out of necessity, but now the preferred method for many seafood lovers. Along the coast of Maine, lobster "pounds" are numerous; here, they cook the lobsters outdoors in vats of seawater over wood-fired stoves. Served "in the rough" -- at a picnic table, with only a cracker (to open the shell) and a pick to get the meat out of the shell, with perhaps a little melted butter, this is divine summer eating. Cold beer or chilled white wine.

Seawater has a unique flavor; salty, of course, but there is something else to it that is just perfect with the lobster.

Sylvia said...

In the northwest US, we always cooked our Dungeness crabs -- caught ourselves, never bought -- in sea water. They had much more flavor than those cooked in fresh water. It was my father's rule and though he didn't cook much, what he did he knew about!

The crabs were especially tasty if cooked in an old pot over a driftwood fire on the beach.