How Salty is the Ocean?

This morning, I heard a chef say “Make your pasta water as salty as the ocean.” I’ve heard many TV chefs say this. To me, a resident of a landlocked state, this is useless advice. I don’t spend much time at the beach and my memory of the saltiness of any ocean water is pretty dim. Let’s just say this is a pretty imprecise way to describe how salty your pasta water should be. I will say that once you do it more precisely (which is below), you can taste it and then you will know what ocean salty tastes like.

How salty is the ocean? There is 3.5 g of salt per liter of ocean water. This is an approximation since not all parts of the oceans have the same salinity. But, for our purposes, 3.5 g/l is good enough.

But, most Americans don’t think is grams or liters. After converting, it comes pretty close to ½ teaspoon of salt for each quart (4 cups) of water. My pasta pot holds 8 quarts, so I should add 4 teaspoons of salt, a heaping Tablespoon. Use a smaller pot and less water, add less.

The next time you cook pasta, measure the water and salt. Then taste the water. Do it a few times and you’ll know how salty the ocean tastes! Or do what I do: put the same amount of water each time and put the same amount of salt in your palm each time. No need to taste the water.

While we are talking pasta and oceans, how about a recipe for pasta with clam sauce? This has been a favorite recipe in my house for a long time. It came from a collection of Junior League recipes from the Eastern US. This is a quick recipe. The sauce comes together while the pasta is cooking.

Linguini with Lemon-Clam Sauce
(serves 4)

2 6½ oz. cans chopped clams in clam juice
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, about 6 sprigs
1 lemon
salt to taste
1 pound of linguine
Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

Drain clam juice from canned clams and reserve both juice and clams, separately. Zest lemon – you need about 1 teaspoon of zest (a little more or less is fine). Then juice the lemon. You need 2 Tablespoons juice. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and drop in the linguine.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallots and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add clam juice, oregano, and pepper. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook until liquid is reduced to a few tablespoons. Lower heat to medium. Add clams, parsley, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Cook at a simmer to heat up clams. When the pasta is cooked to al dente (don’t over cook as it will continue to cook in the sauce), scoop out a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water and add to the skillet. This helps to thicken the sauce, from the starch in the water. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet. Toss to coat with the sauce. Taste for salt. The clams, clam juice, and pasta water are salty so you may need nothing. Serve hot in a bowl with bread to sop up sauce.

The cheese is absolutely optional. In Italy, they consider Parmesan cheese an abomination on a seafood pasta. But, you do what you want because you don’t need to live by Italian rules. This is an American recipe!

Recipe adapted from The Eastern Junior League Cookbook edited by Ann Seranne, David McKay Company, Inc. 1980.

Photo credit: By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Author: worldplatterblog

I blog about food, travel, and anything else tangentially related to food that piques my interest. I have a degree in Culinary Arts and in Operations Research (it's math). That means I'm pretty analytical and love science, but I also love art. Food is a strange place where science intersects art in continually changing ways. I love writing about all of it.

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