Chefs and full-time foodies are no longer seasoning their food with salt. They're going all out and using straight seawater instead
Forget seasoning water with salt. The latest food trend is cooking with water straight from the sea. Has the world gone mad? We'll let you decide ...
Confession time: who’s responsible for this?
Spain we're looking at you. Ferran Adrià of elBulli fame and Quique Dacosta (with his namesake three Michelin star restaurant) are apparently dab hands at this, though top chefs over here have been quick to join the party too.
But it ain't nothing new ...
Cooking with seawater has been going on in coastal villages for centuries (after all, it's the natural thing to do without sinks, taps, or health and safety).
Seawater even features as an ingredient in recipes as early as the eighteenth century - see Joe Frogger cookies. Legend has it that saltwater was used in these seafaring biscuits to help preserve them over long journeys.
It’s probably a cultural thing ...
We're a bit nervous of salt here in the UK, but in Spain people aren't so bothered. There's now six companies selling purified seawater over there, while Scottish company Acquamara gave up as there wasn't enough demand. That said, big boys Mediterranea Seawater are set to launch in the US next month – it'll be interesting to see how they do.
What's the point?
Good question. Apparently cooking with seawater makes your food taste better. In Spain, it's marketed as la sel perfecta (the perfect salt) enhancing the natural flavour of whatever you're eating rather than making it taste salty. Companies also claim it contains more minerals than sea salt and less sodium chloride ... but the jury is most definitely out.
Sod it. I want to try it!
Curious enough to toss reason to the waves? Then take some advice from Chris Jones, Interim Chef at Chefs Jobs UK, before you give it a go (he's done this before):
- I'd recommend using a ratio of one part seawater to two parts normal water if you're using seawater in your cooking, like boiling rice or pasta. Using seawater alone would make the salt content of a dish extremely high and completely take over the taste.
- Saltwater is great to cook crustaceans such as lobsters and langoustines – wash them in seawater too so you don't lose any of the minerals which would otherwise be washed away.
Where’d you get seawater from, then?
The sea of course! But on a serious note, Chris says you've got to be extremely careful. "Seawater must be boiled and taken past pasteurisation point (186°C) before you use it." Collect it from reasonably deep, fast moving water at high tide too – not the shallows or rock pools where the kids pee; and pour through a cheesecloth to remove any silt.
A safer (though admittedly less fun option) is to buy seawater bottled or boxed, ready to go – this stuff has been treated, so it's free from pollutants and micro-organisms which might be harmful. It's not cheap though; according to Chris a three litre box costs around 30-35 euros (about £21-25).
Recipes for the seasoned cook
Want to go beyond obvious fish and shellfish territory? Get adventurous with Heather Atwood's 'Mermaid chicken' and saltwater mash (aptly named by her young daughter), this roast lamb with saltwater, or try putting some in a salad dressing.