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May 21, 2011 12:08 PM

Cooking with seawater?

I've always heard about the virtues of cooking crustaceans (like lobster, crab, etc.) in seawater.

I've heard the same about things like corn, potatoes, and some vegetables, esp. carrots.

Other things I've learned are big no-no's, like pasta, but apparently rice is OK (sometimes).

I've even heard that cooking beans in seawater reduces cooking time and requires no soaking (assuming you are a "soaker" to begin with).

Some people even tell me that poaching (yes, poaching!) fish like salmon and halibut in seawater is the only way to go.

So, do you cook with seawater? And, if so, how?

I got this "free" coupon (from a company I will not name to avoid free advertising) burning a hole in my pocket to try a few liters of "organic" seawater. Wondering if it's worth the trouble ...

Thanks all.

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  1. I have used ocean water to steam or boil lobsters (many times), crabs, and clams (I retrieve it myself - which resulted in a pretty funny Christmas Eve morning once). I have had oysters steamed in Chesapeake Bay water as well. I've enjoyed the results each time.

      1. re: grangie angie

        Not only organic, but apparently "harvested" ... who would've thunk it.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          I harvest mine. In repurposed containers.

          (It involves wading into the Atlantic with gallon spring water jugs.)

          1. re: MGZ

            Although, come to think about it, I've also paddled out on a surfboard to get it (it has to be "harvested" outside the break). I suppose I could call that "using environmentally-friendly vehicles."

      2. Why don't you make your own simulated sea water - just dissolve 35g of salt (sea salt if you care) in a liter of fresh water (or to be picky 965g of pure water)?

        12 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          There are minerals (supposedly) in fresh sea water that cannot be replicated with just combining salt and water, even sea salt and water.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            One issue is overall saltiness of the water - will it leave your food too salty or not.

            Another is the minerals that are not in salt. According to the figure I linked, sulfate and magnesium are the two largest components after sodium chloride. Are those present in sea salt? If not, why? If sea salt is produced by evaporating sea water, shouldn't its composition match the ion mix in the water?

            I found one source that claimed magnesium strengthens cell walls, and thus prolongs the cooking time of vegetables like potatoes. They note that calcium is added to canned foods like tomatoes to improve texture. Magnesium has similar effect.

            1. re: paulj

              There is organic material suspended in the oceans' waters. It affects the taste of the water as well. The smell of the ocean alone helps illustrate what I mean.

              In a more romantic sense, I'd rather think of it in a "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" way.

            2. re: ipsedixit

              Sea salt is seawater with the water evaporated. Any minerals that are so volatile that they evaporate with the water are probably something I don't want in my diet.

              That said, all sea salts are not alike. The mineral content of the water on the salt flats at the south end of San Francisco Bay is different than what you find near the red clay cliffs of Maui or off the beaches of Normandy. If you want Norman seawater, you'd better use Norman sea salt. Otherwise, I can't imagine a difference.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                They do sell a product called instant ocean for making salt water for reef tanks. It has the minerals and trace elements that are naturally found in sea water.

              2. re: paulj

                Salted water does not taste the same as ocean water. I don't know if it matters in the overall preparation, but there is a different flavor to it.

                1. re: MGZ

                  Do you worry about the supposed "pollution" off the shores of NJ when using seawater? I'm not so much concerned for things like lobster, crab, shrimp, etc., but what about veggies or potatoes?

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Not really, though I wouldn't do it the day after a heavy rain (I don't get in much, or for long, on such days either).

                    1. re: MGZ

                      I wonder if I could run my "straight-from-the-ocean" seawater through a Brita filter or something. Or would take away all the "sea flavor" ....

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I think that would defeat the purpose.

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      My Dad recalls that I would cook corn with the lobster water years ago. I had forgotten (beer), as I have been grilling corn for so long now.