Cooking on a boat is not just about recipes and cooking methods. Equally important are provisioning and food storage. Provisioning can be difficult because opportunities for acquiring food vary greatly from location to location. There may or may not be a grocery store within miles (usually measured in hours of sailing) and it may or may not be stocked. Some foods you like may not be available at all. Usually you are buying only as much food as you want to personally carry for what can be a really long ways. If you like to fish or hunt lobster or collect conch, you can supplement your diet that way once you leave the ICW. Food storage depends largely on your boat’s systems and capacity. Most boats have some sort of refrigeration – not all – and some have freezers. In all different sizes.
All of this means that having the right ingredients for a particular recipe at any given time is really hit or miss, so you have to be flexible and creative. Instead of selecting a recipe and then collecting the ingredients, you first see what you have on hand or can buy nearby and build a meal from that. Luckily, most recipes can be adapted to whatever is available; sometimes you finish a recipe and realize that you have substituted or left out EVERY ingredient.
As an alternative to hit or miss provisioning, a friendly and generous couple on a nearby powerboat could invite you to go with them for a daytrip across the Sea of Abaco to Marsh Harbor to a huge (for the Bahamas), fairly well-stocked grocery store there.
And you could have lunch at Snappa’s before heading back.
One thing I never have to buy is canned goods. Back in September, before we left Annapolis, we filled the boat with cans; we have a good amount of storage space under the berths in the main cabin. Having spent most of this trip pretty close to civilization, we still have a LOT of canned food left.
But such surplus is great to have. Canned chicken is tasty and substitutes for whatever meat is called for in many recipes; canned beans are a good source of protein; and canned fruit is quite delicious. Rice or couscous can be an entire meal when enhanced with small bits of veggies/nuts/fruit. We also brought cans of three-bean salad, tomato paste, artichoke hearts, and fun stuff like pesto, salsa, fancy pasta, and various kinds of nuts (which add flavor and protein). And here’s a life-saver – lots of granola bars – the healthy kind. These are great when no one has time to prepare food and someone is getting cranky.
I like fresh better, but with a small frig and no freezer, we can only keep fresh meat about 3 days, fruits and vegetables 4-6 days depending on how warm it is, and cheeses longer. The more produce I can cram into the frig, the longer it will last. With a larger frig and/or freezer, provisioning is easier because, when you have the opportunity, you can buy more and you can keep it longer.
The actual food preparation is more fun if you have the right utensils. But you can’t take everything you have at home. At least we couldn’t, because we just don’t have the space. Nowadays, there’s a lot of collapsible kitchen stuff available: not just bowls, but measuring cups, a colander and a salad spinner (I couldn’t resist). One thing about the salad spinner – it separates into both a bowl and a strainer.
I love my Le Creuset pans – they don’t slide around on the stove; they retain heat well; and, once soaked, you can scrub almost anything off them. I have two pans. This is a two-in-one, because the lid for the saucepan is also a small fry pan.
And my other pan is a big frying pan. That’s it. When I cook I really try to minimize the pans and utensils used, so clean up is easier and uses less water.
I took a pressure cooker on the last trip and rarely used it. For one, after spending hours soaking dried beans and then cooking and spicing them, they tasted just like Campbell’s baked beans. Really?? So I didn’t see the point of making room for one. I know some boat cooks swear by them. And the two of us can’t eat a whole pressure cooker full of food anyway.
For baking, I have a silicone muffin pan, a so-called brownie pan (which is a not-very-deep 9×13 pan), an 8” square pan, and a loaf pan for bread. I like a 9×13 pan because it’s so versatile – will make two loaves of bread or a cake or baked chicken. I do not have a bundt pan, springform pan, round cake pans, or pie plates – I just don’t have room for what I consider specialty, single-use pans. (Although I would reconsider a pie plate.) Why a muffin pan? Because muffins are very versatile – they can be the banana nut kind or the bran/healthy kind, or fruity or cheesy – i.e., breakfast or lunch or snack. But truthfully, I have not baked much this trip because, frankly, we just don’t need the calories. AND because there are several sources of great baked goods in Hopetown, including Vernon’s Grocery – amazing coconut and key lime pies and still-warm bread; Back Creek Bakery – on the Post Office Dock on Friday afternoon – OMG guava and Magic bars: and the Hopetown Coffee House, among others. I recently bought a cake made by the Coffee House at the Firemen’s rummage and bake sale – red velvet on the top layer and coconut/pineapple on the bottom. It was fabulous.
Here’s a cooking problem I never had at home. I was baking brownies and Goldwin was on deck, cleaning the boat, mostly on the starboard side. So when I put the brownies in the oven, the boat was heeling slightly to starboard and the brownie batter shifted to the starboard side of the pan – very thick on that side and very thin and a bit dried out on the portside. Oops. I frosted them with melted chocolate chips and took them to the Oscar Party and I really doubt anyone noticed.
I brought utensils that make it easier to make the foods we like.
I use the grater all the time – so much easier to wash and stow than the four sided kind I have at home. Note that the measuring cups are collapsible – on loan from my daughter. For potholders, I really like the silicone ones because they work even if they’re wet – great on a boat.
I brought two very good knives – a paring knife and a chopping knife that works as a bread knife. Many recommend four knives, but two have worked just fine for me – I guess I’m not much of a knife connoisseur.
Here are some mostly original recipes we like:
Lobster Salad (adapted from a conch salad recipe in “Conch Cooking” by Joyce LaFray)
- One lobster tail (I cut it into pieces) ( freshly caught by you, or your son-in-law, or purchased at the Hopetown Post Office Dock on Friday afternoon when the fish boat comes in)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup chopped onion (I rarely measure when cooking, so these are estimations)
- 1/4 cup chopped celery (optional)
- 1 T parsley
- 1/2 t oregano
- 1 T white wine vinegar
- 1 t salt
- 1/3 cup chopped green pepper
- 1 avocado, cubed
- 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese (because I add cheese to most recipes)
- Oil and butter
Saute garlic, onions and celery in oil and butter; add lobster and saute. Add spices. When lobster is cooked, turn off flame and add green pepper and avocado to hot pan. Combine gently. Sprinkle with grated cheese.
May be served over lettuce (as shown) or rice.
Potato & Corn Chowder – [despite the name, every ingredient is pretty much optional]
- Potatoes, diced
- Carrots, sliced
- Celery, diced
- Onions, diced
- Can of corn
- Cheddar or other cheese
- Salt and other spices to taste
Cook onions in oil or spray oil. Add several cups of water and cook diced potatoes. If you have carrots and celery, add them when the potatoes are about half cooked. When the potatoes are tender, add a can of corn, with the liquid. Turn off heat. Add cheese and stir to melt.
Try different spices to change the flavor, such as herbs de provence or others. You can also add milk to make it creamier. And you can fry bacon or ham with the onions to add a meaty flavor.
Mexican (a favorite family recipe)
- Store-bought tortilla chips
- Grated cheese – some combination of monterey jack, gruyere for extra flavor, cheddar, and/or mozzarella or whatever you have on hand
- Onions, diced
- Black beans or refried beans; kidney beans also work
- Red pepper – sliced into short pieces
- Cilantro – fresh or dried
- Cooked chicken, if available (we also like a vegetarian version)
Line 9×13 or 7×11 pan with foil and coat lightly with spray oil. Arrange tortilla chips on pan and cover with cheese. Sprinkle with onions and cumin. Add red pepper, beans and chicken. Top with cilantro. Broil or bake in a hot oven. Serve with guacamole and salsa.
Guacamole: Mash 2-3-4 avocadoes; add cilantro and the juice of 1-2 limes; mix.
Boat Spaghetti (I have a spaghetti recipe from my brother that I love, but this is an easy, one-pan, boat version from my daughter)
- Pasta, cooked
- 1/2 cup onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 t oregano
- 1 t basil
- 2 T parsley
- one small can tomato paste
- 1/4 parmesan cheese (or more)
Cook pasta in large saucepan. When tender, drain and save the pasta water in a separate bowl.
In the saucepan used to cook the pasta, add oil and cook onion and garlic. Add tomato paste, spices, the pasta water, and, if you have them, meatballs. Add parmesan cheese just before serving.
If you want to add meatballs, here are two recipes. With one pound of ground beef, we make meatballs as a meal one day and refrigerate the rest for spaghetti the following night.
My brother’s meatball recipe:
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3 T grated sharp cheese
- 1 t salt
- 1/4 t pepper
- 1 cup soft bread crumbs
Combine beef, egg, cheese, salt and pepper; mix well. Add bread crumbs and mix just enough to blend. Shape into 1-inch balls. Brown and cook in oil in frying pan; or bake in oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Alternate boat meatball recipe:
Combine an envelope of onion soup mix, 1/2 cup small bread cubes (optional), an egg and a few squirts of catsup, (optional), with one pound of ground beef. Form into balls and cook in frying pan.
Mexican Bean Salad (This has a lot of ingredients, but ones I’m likely to have on the boat.)
- 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
- 1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn or canned corn
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 T fresh lime juice
- 1 T lemon juice
- 2 T white sugar
- 1 T salt
- 1 clove crushed garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro; or 1 T dried
- 1/2 T ground cumin
- 1/2 T ground black pepper
- 1 dash hot pepper sauce
- 1/2 t chili powder
In large bowl, combine beans, bell peppers, corn and onion. In small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, lime and lemon juices, sugar and spices. Season to taste with hot sauce and chili powder. Pour olive oil dressing over vegetables and mix well. Chill thoroughly and serve cold.
[This is a great recipe to take to a potluck, but I have difficulty with it on the boat because I don’t have room in the frig for a large bowl and the flavors really need some time in the frig in order to develop.]
Turtle Cake (an old family recipe from my mom; I made it for my daughter’s 9th birthday aboard “Victory” on the ICW in North Carolina, and for my son-in-law’s 26th birthday in Hopetown this year (and many times in between))
Prepare as directed on box: German chocolate cake, adding oil and eggs and water
Put 1/2 of cake mixture in 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes
- 1 cup chopped nuts
- 1 cup chocolate chips
Spread with the following, which has been melted and mixed:
- Caramel sauce or melted caramels (about 2/3 cup)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 can condensed milk
Pour rest of cake mix over caramel mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
Frost with chocolate frosting or sprinkle more chocolate chips over hot cake and spread them when melted.
Wow, you have that down pat. Sounds like really good food and you made me very hungary. Have fun you guys.
Great tips! I did a post on cooking on a sailboat that you might enjoy.
Great and thorough post on the topic. Turtle Cake is the best!