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Cooking On Board
|OK, we can officially put aside the myth that cooking onboard a sailboat is difficult. Even Larry, my liberated-enough-that-itís-all-right-for-me-to-change-the-oil-in-the-engine husband, would still rather I did most of the cooking, but he has nonetheless started producing incredible gourmet delights out of Serengetiís galley. And heís enjoying it! |
Initially, the galley on a sailboat presents a big change from the space we are all accustomed to cooking in. No longer do you have the luxury of fancy appliances, dozens of one-task kitchen gadgets and a seemingly endless choice of pots and pans. But donít despair. Youíll be amazed at what you can produce out of even the smallest galley with just a few simple and basic cooking tools. Itís easy to cook with a smile on your face once youíve organized your galley and decided to stick to the basics.
First, for some tips on setting up your galley most efficiently, from things like optimizing your sink and faucet to improving your lighting, ventilation, and other good storage ideas, you might want to read our earlier article on "Renovating the Galley."
Now, on to the basics that will simplify life in the galley. The tools you take on board must be chosen carefully. If you take too much stuff, youíll simply be overwhelmed with where to stow it all. Stick to items that can perform multiple tasks. Admit it. Your kitchen cupboards and drawers at home are filled with stuff that never sees the light of day. To help you choose your items, Iíll give you a detailed list of the tools we find let us cook, fry, boil, and bake up a storm, never for a minute wishing we were back in the big kitchen.
Once youíve compiled your own galley essentials, store them in a manner that will allow you to easily find them again when needed. The where-on-earth-did-I-put-that scenario can be a most frustrating part of cooking on a boat if you are not organized. Each storage compartment on your boat should be numbered and each item inventoried as it is put away. With this system, whenever you canít remember where something is, you simply refer to your master list. Make sure items are returned to the same spot each time, or this system will fail and youíll be pulling your hair out!
Next, itís important to ensure that your most commonly used cooking tools and ingredients are located in the most easily accessible areas. This usually means storing the main bulk of food items like coffee, sugar, and flour, and the really large boiler pot someplace else in the boat besides the galley. The trick is to keep smaller canisters or jars of food items you use daily in the galley, and refill from larger quantities stowed elsewhere. You may have a partner on board who will try to tell you that his tools should have priority in that very handy drawer by the galley, but hold your ground. Stomachs have to be maintained three times a day.
|"Hold your ground, stomachs have to be maintained three times a day."|
Although an oven is nice to have, itís not a necessity on a sailboat. We have many cruising friends with stoves only and they still manage to produce wondrous meals by adapting everything to stovetop cooking. Although we have an oven onboard Serengeti
, Iíve taken to doing much of my baking and other cooking on the stovetop myself. Itís the most efficient use of gas and the results have been delicious and quick. Our two-burner stove has been more than adequate for us, and it takes up less of our precious space. Propane grills that attach to the stern rail are also a very popular addition. This is a great way to cook without heating up the interior cabin and especially appreciated when cooking fish to keep the odor outdoors.
The extent of your ability to keep things cold and/or frozen on board will have a direct effect on the length of time you can be independent on the water and eat really well. If you choose an icebox, you will be tied to having to find block ice to keep your food cold. This is certainly not a problem when coastal cruising, but can limit your destinations and/or eating style when further away from civilization. Refrigeration will free you from this need to find ice every few days, and will likely result in an improved diet. The addition of a freezer will keep you well stocked for many months and allow you the luxury of having ice in your drinks.
When choosing pots and pans for your galley, donít skimp on quality. Make sure you have pans that distribute and hold the heat well for most efficient cooking and least use of fuel. Many cruisers choose heavy-bottomed stainless steel pans for their durability over the years. Thin, Teflon coated non-stick pans will not last in this salty environment, or be as versatile in how well they perform in using the stove top for baking as well as just heating things up. Before choosing your pans, check the size of your stovetop and make sure your pans fit well in combination with one another.
Larry and I discovered some great pans at the Annapolis Boat Show one year that we were so impressed with we have since nicknamed them our "magic pans." They are a German made product called NOWAĖHand Cast and resemble in thickness and almost in weight a cast-iron pan, but are made of a special alloy and are coated with a non-stick surface both inside and out. With this type of pan, the heat is distributed throughout the whole pan, and the heat is held in amazing well and for a long time. They are versatile enough that we can use them for frying, making soups and stews, baking breads and cakes, and even for making toast by placing the bread in the bottom of the dry, hot pan. Theyíre also easy to clean and oven proof to boot.
Most cruisers become masters at creating one-pot meals. Although our "magic pans" perform this function great for us, there are other techniques. For example, many of our friends swear by pressure cookers. These cook their contents quickly while using very little fuel. After cooking a roast with vegetables for just a short time, they take the pot off the stove and wrap it in towels to keep the heat in. This will allow the roast to continue simmering for hours.
|"They made us feel like we were dining in a four star restaurant that night."|
Other sailors live by the wok. Our good friends on Driftín and Dreamín invited us over one night and treated us to the most wonderfully prepared one-wok dish of Cornish game hens. They made us feel like we were dining in a four star restaurant that nightóall produced from the galley of their 27-foot cutter. We managed to coerce the recipe out of them to share with you. (See recipe below.)
For oven baking, weíve found that Teflon-coated baking pans have a very short life span. One small nick on the surface of the pan, and it starts to rust. For longer life, choose tempered glass casserole and baking pans, like CorningWare. These are remarkably strong and durable, and clean up easily when coated with cooking spray before use.
Including a few small 110-volt electrical appliances will increase your versatility in whipping up homemade items. Most can be powered by a moderately sized inverter. We carry a small food processor and a convertible egg beater/blender tool that get used fairly often. Although we had a microwave on our last boat, we found it got used for bread storage than it did for cooking, so did not add one in Serengetiís galley. A wonderful recent addition to our electrical appliances has been a high quality vacuum sealer. We are now able to keep things in the freezer far longer, and know that our nuts, grains and sugar, etc, are all protected from bugs, as they cannot survive in an airfree environment. We even vacuum-seal batteries and film, etc. for extended life.
Provisioning your boat with the right items for you, and the right amount of each, is a task that every cruiser gets better at with a little experience under the belt. The best advice I can give you is to keep careful track of what you normally eat at home for a one-month period. See which sauces and spices never get used so that you wonít feel it necessary to bring them along. Substitute canned versions of items that you use a lot of fresh for back up times when youíre out of fresh. There are many canned meats that I never thought I would like, but taste just fine in recipes on the boat. Keep a list of everything you put on board, note itís exact location, and mark it off the list as you use it so that you know what youíre short of the next time youíre able to stock up. This will also tell you what youíre not using much of. If you want to supplement the fresh items onboard, many cruisers have small herb gardens and/or a sprout jar for alfalfa or mung beans.
When cruising, there is plenty of time to prepare everything from scratch. Baking bread quickly becomes a routine affair as many re-discover its unbeatable taste and smell. Even making things like crackers and pretzels becomes second hand for the cruiser far from stores. Carry lots of cookbooks. Youíll find an adventurous spirit in cooking become valuable once you cruise off the beaten track if you want to keep your dining life exciting. Thereís no heading out to the local Chinese joint for something different when hundreds of miles from civilization.
But not everyone likes to cook and many have no great desire to bake. I love to do both, and even Larry now has his galley specialties, but weíve found that there are times when weíre so caught up in other things, like the recent refit of our boat, or the planning of a long voyage, that we cheat a little. You can still get some really good "homemade-like" fare while miles away from civilization, with just a few tricks. Before you leave dock, stock up on canned refrigerated bread dough, biscuits and pizza crusts that just need baking. (Remember, these can be baked stovetop if you donít have an oven.) Muffin, cake and brownie mixes can be as simple as adding water, and incomparable in taste to store bought ready-made stuff. If you donít want to bake at all, youíll find flatbreads like pita and tortillas store a very long time onboard compared to other yeast risen breads. For main meal fare, get on the Internet or check your local grocery and youíll find delicious fully prepared meals that are vacuum-sealed and need no refrigeration. Weíve got some Indian curries packed away that make my mouth water just thinking about them.
Not all sailors are comfortable cooking in rough conditions, even those with many miles logged. For those who battle with keeping seasickness at bay, the less time spent below with a task like cooking, the better. To keep the crew well fed when faced with such conditions, prepare meals in advance that can be simply heated up, thus minimizing time spent below.
Larry and I are just about to set off for Bermuda from the Florida coast and have made up enough meals in advance to give us at least one good hot meal a day. If we run into sea conditions that make us uncomfortable, these meals will just require simple heating up. Rather than do a lot of extra cooking to have these meals "in the bag" so to speak, we simply doubled up on everything we were making for dinners the week before we left, leaving enough to freeze in single serve portions. We also baked a variety of high-energy snacks to help keep us alert during those nighttime watches. What a great excuse to eat brownies and not feel guilty!
Basically, your onboard cooking and eating style doesnít have to be a whole lot different from your previous land-based life. With the right tools and equipment, the savory ingredients of your choice, and an organized effort in stowing everything away, youíll soon be cooking up and enjoying delicious fare for many years to come. The biggest change youíll probably find is that now, to enhance those culinary efforts, you have the best waterfront seat every single night. Who can beat that?
Serengeti's Galley ToolsLarge frying pan with high sides and lid
Small frying pan and lid
Small boiler and lid
Medium boiler (lid is same as small frying pan)
Large boiler and lid
Extra large pot for Lobsters, crabs, etc. (lid is same as large frying pan)
Large chopping knife, two small paring knives
Fish scaling knife
Plastic potato masher
Brush for marinades
Tongs and nut crackers (for crab and lobster)
Manual can opener
Cork screw and bottle opener
Large s/s mixing bowl for bread dough two smaller s/s mixing bowls
Non-stick baking sheet
Non-stick muffin pan
Pyrex round pie plate, rectangular dish, and loaf pan
Large cutting board
Small cutting board