And the fewer utensils, the better the dining

October 1, 1998

By Dodge Morgan

Sailors will eat anythingI have always wanted to write a cooking column. It is right there on my list of desires with arm-power flying, playing a Wurlitzer at Kennedy Center and spending an overnight with Madonna. At least the cooking column is something I’m able to do badly.

You first must understand that I have the palate of a sea gull. And the culinary skills to match. That said, one must admit that meal preparation on a boat is different because a galley is not a kitchen. The standard galley is a two-burner alcohol stove, a sink the size of a bowler hat, a cold box of melting ice and counter space equivalent to a fat lady’s lap, all arranged in the area of a phone booth.

The shore-side gourmet cook is a disaster on board. The needs are for too many ingredients at hand, too many pots on the heat and too much clean-up afterwards. So if a person uses haute cuisine jargon of any kind, or even affects a French accent, assign him or her to the forepeak to repack the sail inventory. The only time dry parsley is sprinkled should be on the cabin sole when a knockdown empties the little spice rack, which is in place only for show anyway.

The proper boat cook will be a skinny, high-metabolism, joke-telling optimist. For when chow is set out on a small boat, the mood is more attack-mode than ambiance-appreciation. Bulk is the high priority. Simply getting groceries all hot at the same time is championship performance. Getting them into the crew’s fists without having them re-scooped from the countertop is cause for celebration.

Some rules are obvious. Always serve food in flat-bottomed plastic bowls with sides at least two inches high. The offering should never require more than one tool to consume, preferably a spoon, as one can assume each eater has a belt-worn Leatherman tool if food chunks need disassembly. It is much easier to intermix all food items as they are served as this is where they end up anyway, in the dish and certainly afterwards.

Some favorites of mine:

Irradiated meals in foil pouches. I don’t know what environmental hazards occur when these items are prepared, but they are among the most environmentally friendly when they are consumed on board. The only galley tools required are a source of heat, a pot of water and a pair of scissors. Boil the water. Toss in the pouches. Dump the load in the sink. Pick out the pouches. Scissor off one corner. Present to consumer wrapped in insulating paper towel wad and instruct to squeeze contents directly into mouth. Not one dish to wash.

Seawater, no-knead bread. Ingredients are flour, sugar, powdered yeast and seawater. Tools are a bowl, a heavyweight pot with cover that fits, a flame and a warm holding place. Mix 1½ cups of warmed ocean water with tablespoon of sugar and packet of yeast. Look for foam to form. Fold in flour, maybe four cups, until consistency of lump reaches that of fresh putty. Set in warm place until lump doubles in size by itself, maybe two hours. Dump lump into greased pot; it will shrink in size and then grow back. Place pot with weighted cover on low flame for about one hour or until loaf top sharply echoes a finger snap. Pry loaf from pot. Crust will be on the bottom and texture will vary inward from Italian to Wonder. Consume quickly or you will have suitable building material for the nether orifice of the Sphinx.

Of course, my kind of on-board cooking does encourage crew to invite all for shore dinners, and this may just be its most endearing characteristic.