You would think after living aboard for 18 years, I would know all of the tricks to cooking aboard. I only know what worked for us, and maybe some of my ideas and tips will work for you, too.
We started out on a 40 foot sailboat with a large galley and a lot of storage. Whether you are planning for a long trip of many months or a week on the river or bay, you will need to buy provisions for the boat. We have done both kinds of trips.
For long trips, I cram every space available with items of food. After our first trip through the Bahamas, I realized we didn’t eat any differently, really, than we did at home. Those cans of asparagus wound up being taken to a potluck in Exuma Land and Sea Park after being in a locker for 6 months. I would like to tell you that we ate healthy every day – beans, rice, fresh greens – but we didn’t. I have a spouse who eats only potatoes, meats/fish and a few isolated vegetables. We ate healthier than we would have at home without access to processed foods, but still pretty much ate the same. I say all of that to say, don’t stock up on things you think you might eat. It is a waste of money and space. Unless you plan on overhauling your diet – many of us probably should – buy what you know you will eat.
The next consideration is storage of the food. You do not want to bring cardboard on to your boat. It may look innocent enough now, but critters lay their eggs in cardboard and in no time, you will have them on board. You should also bring items such as soda and beer on board separately after you have isolated it from the cardboard case boxes and looked around each six-pack for critters hiding between the cans. It is easier to do that than chasing them around the boat at 3 a.m. (Do I sound like I’m speaking from personal experience? I am!)
A second and more important factor is that you will need to dispose of that cardboard at some point when it may not convenient. Do it at the dock when you can take it to the recycling center. If you need directions off of the box, cut off just that small section, and put the contents and the little piece of cardboard in a sealable plastic bag or plastic jar with a lid. (If using a jar, place a bay leaf in the jar and plastic wrap around the top of the jar to seal it and keep out bugs.)
With regard to cans, mark what they contain with a permanent marker on the top of the can, and then stack them neatly in crates or cupboards. You will be able to see what they are from the top, and, if the label comes off for whatever reason, you won’t have to guess what is inside.
Those green bags for storing veggies and fruit really do work, either in the fridge or somewhere cool on the boat. They increase the life of the food three- or four-fold. Hanging bags for breads, snacks and cookies are also very handy to keep that delicate stuff from getting flattened when your boat is heeling or rolling. When you put meat in the freezer, wrap portions separately in plastic wrap first, then put like meats in a large resealable bag to help keep them from getting freezer burnt. Layer your freezer with what you plan to use first on the top.
Now comes the cooking part. Unless you have a ton of storage, and endless amounts of power, you will want to leave those crock pots, bread makers, blenders, etc., in your storage locker or give them to friends. They take up a bunch of room and use more power than you will likely want to spare. Substitute them with a pressure cooker, some good bread pans and a small hand operated chopper.
One of my favorite cooking tools aboard is the grill mounted to the stern rail. There isn’t one piece of meat that doesn’t taste better cooked on the grill. It is also handy for grilling veggies. On hot days when you don’t want to heat up the boat, put your whole dinner in some lightly greased foil with some liquid, fold it up and grill it on the lowest setting. Usually, I separate the meat from the veggies. Use herbs, butter, cooking wine - whatever will enhance the foods’ flavor.
We have always had a microwave on board, but only use it for heating up leftovers (2-3 minutes tops), baked potatoes, quick steaming veggies and that occasional bag of popcorn. After roasting everyone inside the boat while cooking in the oven, we found that many things can be cooked on top of the stove. My more pressing reason for doing that now, since we live on a 34-foot trawler with much less storage space, is that the oven is used for storing roasting pans, muffin tins, etc. and all of the “stuff” has to go somewhere while I’m cooking in the oven. Many things can be cooked top side. I now make roasts in large pans on top of the stove, putting the burner on the lowest setting possible. Things that need to be baked for 20-30 minutes in the oven can be cooked in a frying pan with a lid for 10-15 minutes on top of the stove. The boats heats up less, you use less fuel/propane and they are done more quickly. Pressure cookers do the same thing a crock pot does much more quickly.
I haven’t tried baking bread on the stove top, so that may be the exception. I know that there are pressure cooker bread recipes, however. On the subject of bread, I acquired a starter years ago and have been baking our bread ever since. This frees you up if you want to be out for long stretches and can’t live without bread. Bread is also the best ice-breaker on the planet. You will make fast friends if you show up at a potluck with fresh baked bread or give a loaf as a thank you.
Jumping back to storage for a minute, you do not need to refrigerate ketchup, mustard, many salad dressings, soy sauce, etc. It takes up too much room in your fridge and really doesn’t need it. Those same sauces are also a nice touch to have to vary the flavor of your meals. There are many marinades on the market that can give you a garlic lime accent, teriyaki and every kind of barbeque sauce imaginable.
Don’t forget treats. Hide something yummy in a cupboard on board to find when the crew needs a morale booster. A bag of snack size candy bars will raise spirits when it has been raining for three days. If the weather is chilly and you purposely want to heat up the boat, stash brownie mix on board so you can bake some while out on the hook. Nothing will cheer up your crew like the smell of brownies baking.
Cooking tips and tricks definitely are needed on a boat. You don’t have the room and power you have in a house, but you can still cook and make enjoyable meals.
Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
These muffins are to die for. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone that didn’t like them.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line muffin tin with 12 paper baking cups:
¼ cup melted butter
1 cup sugar, ½ white, ½ brown
Cream butter in sugar in a bowl
Add 1 beaten egg, 2 very ripe bananas and 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar.
Add 1 cup of self-rising flour or 1 cup regular flour and ½ teaspoon of baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon of salt. I also frequently substitute ½ cup of white flour for whole wheat, which gives the muffins a nice texture.
Finally, add 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips to the batter.
Pour into mixture into muffin baking cups and bake for 15-20 or until tops begin to brown. Let cool a bit before attempting to pull the paper off of the muffins, if you can stand to wait!The batter is so good, you may not wind up with 12 muffins.
Maryland Crab Soup
1-12 ounce can beef broth
1-8 ounce can tomato sauce
2 cups mixed vegetables and potatoes
8 ounces of crab meat
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons Old Bay or more to taste
Pour a 14 ounce can of beef broth in a large saucepan or use same amount of water and 2 bullion cubes. Add frozen mixed vegetables or chopped fresh. As the veggies start to become tender, add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes and serve hot.
This easy recipe can be made with fresh ingredients or with all canned if you haven’t been to a store for awhile. Either way, it will taste great. Serve it with whole grain bread and butter, and it is a complete meal for 2. You will also have a bowl leftover for lunch the next day.
1 pound of peeled and de-veined shrimp
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons key lime juice
2 Tablespoons barbecue sauce
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1 spring fresh rosemary
Add all ingredients except shrimp to a large saucepan and simmer. When it starts to bubble, add the shrimp and cook until just cooked. These shrimp have a nice kick to them and taste great served over a bed of brown rice with a salad on the side. You should have enough leftover for one portion. I love leftovers. It saves having to cook another entire meal each day. Save the crab soup and shrimp leftovers and flip a coin to see who gets what!
Cooking on a boat does not always have to be like camping out. Enjoy.