Oceans of Flavor

Creating delicious meals on a boat can be smooth sailing if you keep a few pointers in mind.

September 05, 2001|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Here's a new twist on an old fish tale: During a recent rockfish outing on the Chesapeake Bay, David Perry had an abundance of good fortune that, ironically, didn't include Maryland's state fish.

It started with breakfast as the chartered 46-foot Carmen pulled out of its slip on Kent Island - bacon, eggs, hash browns, fresh muffins and coffee.

Hours later, lunch appeared. "We had cream of crab soup, orzo pilaf, roast sirloin with Madeira sauce and strawberry shortcake," recalls Perry, an Eastern Shore chef when he's not casting a rod. "In the end, we didn't catch any fish, but we ate well."

Welcome to the gourmet galley, mate. As the season's fresh bounty overflows in roadside bushels and farmers' markets, most sailors know just how to stock and navigate the cramped cooking quarters down below so the meals that emerge reflect the simplicity and beauty of the view from the deck.

It can be a tricky feat. In an updated edition of their 1991 book, The Yachting Cookbook, now called Feasts Afloat (Ten Speed Press, 2000, $19.95), authors Jennifer Trainer Thompson and Elizabeth Wheeler detail the art of cooking elegant meals in a small space. The key, they say, is to use a minimal number of ingredients.

The author-sailors have logged 25,000 miles at sea - and have done so in culinary style: grilling pork, lamb and fish on deck, serving the main dish with simple salads like couscous or green beans with tomatoes, and adding carrot-pecan bread or fresh lime pie for dessert.

"You don't need all the time, ingredients and equipment typically associated with an imaginative dish," they write of the book's 150 recipes, which include chicken breasts stuffed with herbed cheese and corn chowder with red potatoes. Most dishes from their small galley have been developed with "two burners, a cooler and buckets of sea water," they say.

Aside from a good sense of humor, they have developed recipes that include variations to give seafaring cooks options when supplies are short.

That's a common theme. Most nautical foodies say cooking on a boat requires a broad sense of creativity, a will to launch into kitchen improvisation and muscle tone good enough to roll with the stove top while the boat rocks on the waves.

Perry has found this to be true - the hard way. He and his wife, Raine, cater for charter-yacht cruises run by Pintail Point, a private Eastern Shore sporting club. Often, during stormy weather, they batten down the kitchen hatch and hang on to the pots and pans.

Most of their work is done ashore, he says, because it is easier to cook on the boat and then assemble a dish once the prep work has been accomplished on land. With refrigeration almost as limited as space, they precook many dishes, and also chop ingredients and then bring them on board to complete a recipe.

Sticking to standbys dear to an Eastern Shore cook's heart, their recipes don't veer far from the basics of fresh strawberries, asparagus, corn, jumbo lump crab cakes and shrimp scampi.

"There's a lack of space, so it's mainly trying to figure out how to work within the area," says Perry. "There are a lot of variables. You have to stack pans on top of each other; on some boats, you have refrigeration and on some you don't. You have more power when on water because you're working on the generator of the boat."

The Perrys often cook for charter-yacht cruises that frequently launch from Pier 5 in Baltimore. Their menus range from brunch fare to grilled entrees and fresh vegetables. In the small galley of the Lady Pintail, the Perrys maneuver around the small space, which resembles the tiny galley passengers see when they board an airplane. At times, they produce meals for up to 120 guests. Their secret? Timing is everything.

"You have to pack well and be conservative," says Raine, a lifelong sailor raised on a boat in North Carolina. "And you have to be precise. You have to get down a routine. You have to be organized."

That's a theme also held by Dr. Dick Johns, chairman emeritus of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Johns, captain of the 38-foot sloop Ecola II, has been a sailor for 40 years. He's traveled from his home on the Wye River to Bermuda and Maine and internationally along the Turkish coast and once across the Atlantic Ocean.

A gourmand, Johns prefers to prepare simple, elegant meals in the tiny galley or on a deck grill that fits onto the sloop's stern rail. As with most sailors, he sticks with a handful of tried-and-true recipes whose ingredients are few.

Johns says he favors fresh fish and fruit and vegetables that he buys at a Kent County farmers' market he passes on the way to his boat slip. His specialties are marinated, grilled swordfish, grilled tenderloin fillets and a simple lump crab salad seasoned with capers and lemon juice.

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