Convenience foods for the offshore sailor (published November 2012)
Sure, we’d all like to be accomplished galley chefs, amazing and delighting the crew with our ability to whip up delicious meals regardless of the boat’s angle of heel. But let’s face it—sometimes, just being in the galley while underway is a monumental effort, and often the crew will be satisfied with a simple but hearty meal. This is particularly true if you are a shorthanded crew with little enthusiasm for elaborate meal preparations between round-the-clock watches.
What follows are our tried and true tips for tasty, convenient meals during offshore passages. Don’t worry—we’re not talking ramen noodles here! Nowadays, there are many high quality, tasty foods available in well-stocked supermarkets in North America and abroad. Compact and long lasting, these supplies make fine meals or snacks in their own right, and can be downright delicious when enhanced with a fresh ingredient or two.
I usually start by exploring the exotic food aisle of a large supermarket. Our favorites are the boxed dinner kits made by Simply Asia, which are available in varieties like “Thai Peanut” or “Sesame Teriyaki.” These come with soy noodles and a tasty sauce, feed two to three people, and can be embellished with vegetables and chicken (fresh or canned). Cooking time is a mere eight minutes. What else can the crew (and the cook) wish for on the first night out on passage? Simply Asia, Kikkoman and other brands also produce small pouches of sauce mixes that will spice up any meal with minimum effort.
Another convenience food I stock is a quality powdered soup mix made by Cugino’s. We love their “Chicken Noodle Knockout,” with “Chicken Enchilada” and “Baked Burgundy French Onion” soups running a close second and third (all are sold in midsize pouches). The mixes provide a great meal, especially with extra vegetables or canned chicken. Compared to other soup mixes, this brand can seem a little pricey, but just one pouch feeds four adults with leftovers.
To conserve propane, I cut the suggested 15-minute cooking time down to 10, with another five minutes standing covered with a lid. If you can’t find Cugino’s, look for any up-market powdered soup mix, such as Bear Creek Country Kitchens. For variety, we make clam chowder by mixing a potato soup package with powdered milk and a can of clams (try Laurie’s Bistro potato soup as a base).
Pizza is yet another easy and satisfying passagemaking meal. Of course, you can make your own dough, but I use pre-made pizza bases and a jar of sauce for an easy meal. My son goes so far as to call the result the best pizza he’s ever tasted! It must have something to do with being offshore.
You can add your favorite toppings (long-life salami is one option) or simplify things by buying pre-grated cheese. We don’t have refrigeration onboard our sloop, but sealed blocks of cheese survive in the bilge for up to three weeks (even in the tropics), and blocks of cheese preserved in jars of oil last even longer. When shopping for pizza bases, check for short cooking times since different brands vary from seven minutes to as many as 20. Also, make sure the pizza will actually fit in your stove! For this reason, I usually choose small-size pizza bases that can be easily personalized and served.
For special surprises between meals, I stock a few mixes to treat the crew (and myself) to occasional goodies such as muffins or brownies. Any mix will do, but make sure you have the necessary additives on hand (usually eggs and oil). To simplify matters, I use Betty Crocker “Simply Add Water” muffin mix. I won’t claim that the result would win a prize at the county fair, but these muffins are ridiculously easy to make, and they sure do get gobbled down quickly. On a rocking platform, every extra ingredient endangers your galley-balancing act and increases the potential for a mess, so the water-only mixes are particularly handy. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can add oil and eggs for the “homestyle” version of the same mix.
As a confessed chocoholic, I stock lots of brownie mix and find the small, half-size boxes especially handy. These bake quickly and make the perfect amount for our small family (I can also reliably bake them in my solar cooker when at anchor). There are few pleasures as great as enjoying a brownie at sundown! In the past, I shied away from quick mixes that called for eggs since we don’t have refrigeration, but I have since learned that eggs will keep for several weeks as long as they are turned regularly, and brownie mixes that use fresh eggs do taste better.
When a special occasion approaches, I plan ahead. For example, knowing that Thanksgiving would fall sometime during our November passage across the central Caribbean, I bought a can of pumpkin pie filling and the condensed milk needed to complete that simple recipe. If a birthday is coming up, I will keep candles, icing and a special cake mix in the larder. Often, the more expensive name brands found in upmarket supermarkets really are tastier.
BAKING FROM SCRATCH
For the dishes that I make entirely from scratch, I save myself a lot of trouble by preparing as much as possible before our departure. For example, I pre-mix the ingredients for bread dough in Ziploc bags so that when the time comes to bake, I only have to add yeast and water to the blend of flours and dash of salt I have already measured out (see recipe sidebar). This enables quick and easy bread making; the result is a healthy, hearty pleasure.
The key to good offshore eating is preparation, so stash a supply of long-lasting convenience foods before you get out of range of large supermarkets. If you aren’t sure whether a mix will tickle your taste buds, sample a few before setting off. Trader Joe’s sells a variety of quick Indian meals that might be just the thing for your crew. Be sure to check the food’s shelf life before setting off for remote cruising grounds. And make sure you look for meals with the shortest cooking times—but don’t make the mistake of reading microwave instead of stovetop directions!
All your preparation will be for naught if you don’t stow convenience foods close at hand, where they will be—well, convenient. Otherwise, you will find yourself excavating an entire locker to find what you need, thereby killing the prospect of an easy meal. Keep supplemental ingredients near each mix—for example, dried berries with the muffin mix, a can of corn or chicken near the soup, and so on.
I’m not suggesting that you subsist entirely from convenience foods, but sometimes art must be sacrificed for the sake of a quick, one-pot meal that can be whipped up in the most uncomfortable offshore conditions. These ideas will serve you especially well in the first days of a long passage. Once you settle into life offshore, you might be inspired to pull out the cookbook and exotic spices. On the other hand, you might like some of the suggestions here so much that you’ll be turning to them for quick, easy, tasty meals no matter where you are!
Nadine Slavinski is the author of Lesson Plans Ahoy, an educational resource for sailing families. She lives and cruises aboard her 1981 Dufour 35, Namani, together with her husband and young son.
BREAD AT SEA
This is my adaptation of Chris Doyle’s “No-Knead Bread” recipe. It is incredibly easy and provides us with healthy bread whether we are offshore for an extended period or at a secluded anchorage.
6 cups flour:
(3 cups white, 1.5 cups whole wheat,1 cup rye, 0.5 cup flax meal)
2 tsp yeast
3 tsp salt
3 cups warm water
In the evening, prepare the dough. First, dissolve the yeast in warm water, then mix the flour and salt thoroughly before combining them with the yeast liquid. Leave the dough covered overnight in an airtight container.
By morning, the dough will have risen all by itself. Flop it onto a board sprinkled with cornmeal and leave to rise for 2 hours in a closed oven (no heat).
Heat a pot with a lid (or a loaf pan covered with aluminum foil) in the oven for 10 minutes at 450°F (230°C). Sprinkle the pot with more cornmeal and add the dough. Bake for 30 minutes, turn and take off the lid, then bake for another 15 minutes. The result is a delicious, hearty loaf of bread!