Cooking aboard: Totem’s galley essentials

Two hands reach towards a Danish pastry while a third holds a mug of cocoa

  

Woman preparing a tart in a boat galley

Returning to Totem recently provided fresh perspective on land kitchens vs boat galleys. Last night, as our dinner cooked in the oven, Jamie and I wondered to each other that it seemed to be taking a long time. Then we remembered we were trying to compare a little boat oven with the beast of a Wolf convection oven at my parent’s home. Right, that’s what’s different!

Jamie and I love to cook: it’s fun, it’s relaxing, it’s a way to share time with friends, it’s a way to get to know the cultures we travel through as we experiment with new ingredients and flavors. My last cooking aboard post was about transitioning land kitchen functionality to a boat, without the power gadgets and space hogs. This highlights what we use most on board, to help inform a minimalist galley setup.

Everyday basics

  • Knives. 99% of our needs are met between a chef’s knife, a bread knife and a filet knife. A heavy-duty cleaver doubles for a machete to crack coconuts. I don’t think you need anything more! Don’t forget a sharpener, and remember that just like on land, quality knives are worth the investment. Most of ours are the well-made Wusthof knives received as wedding gifts more than 23 years ago.
  • Cutting board. We use thin flexible plastic boards. They are lightweight, compact, and double up for use by folding easily into a funnel (most often used for funneling water from a jerry can into Totem’s tanks). We are ALWAYS looking for multiple-use functionality!
  • Durable measuring cups and spoons. I thought silicon measuring cups were convenient. These collapsible cups would wear out after a couple of years, tearing along flex points: very inconvenient! Replaced five years ago with heavy duty stainless cups like these, carried to Borneo in a friend’s duffle, basically indestructible.
  • Mixing / serving bowls– Melamine bowls are durable, non-reactive, and boat-friendly. Nesting bowls make the best use of space; we currently have these Oxo bowls, and previously a set from Williams Sonoma. Eventually, melamine becomes brittle and fractures. Nonskid bottoms and pouring spouts are handy.

On the Stove

  • Tea kettle. Ours lives on the stovetop. Seek out quality stainless, so it doesn’t rust out, and a secure lid. A great option sourced from my friend Carolyn at The Boat Galley is Kuhn Rikon’s 4th Burner Pot: she raves about the practical, multi-functional benefits, especially how it makes good use of limited stove space.
  • Nesting cookware. We’ve had a four-pot set by Fagor / Rapid Chef (this set at Galleyware) for over a decade. It’s no longer on the market, but this set from Magma is very similar and it (or the 10-piece set) and would be my pick for new pots. Our set is four pots, plus lids, plus two handles. We did not keep the plastic lids and an additional skillet (nonstick) didn’t last long.
  • Pressure cooker. People either love them, or they’re indifferent. I’m in the former category. Ours is a 6 quart Kuhn Rikon model similar to the 8L one in this listing (they don’t make our model any more). It’s fantastic, but the much less expensive Fagor pressure cooker gets raves reviews and is an excellent value.
  • Cast iron skillet. Yes, you can bring cast iron onto a boat. More dinners are cooked in our cast iron than any other single pot/skillet/etc.: the 11”, high-side skillet is a galley workhorse. Keep it oiled on all sides to avoid rusting.

Stove with a skillet of root vegetables on the front burner and a griddle with sausages and onions across the back
Who says cast iron doesn’t work on a boat? We love ours!

In the Oven

We don’t use an oven as much use as it did at home, because boat ovens aren’t insulated and who needs to add MORE heat to a boat in the tropics? (That’s one reason why I adore my Solavore solar oven!) But we do use it sometimes, and right now, it’s actually helping us GET warm. Turns out the Sonora desert in cold in November – we did not get that disclaimer.

  • Pyrex pans: A single 9×13 (3 quart) pan meets our needs for family-size casseroles and cakes. For a couple, the 2-quart size is probably plenty and easier to store.
  • Bundt pan: If you’re a baker, consider that boat ovens usually are too small to fit two round pans for a layer cake. Bonus: the tube shape takes less cooking time, which means less oven time / less propane. Alternatively, use a muffin tin for quick breads and cupcakes. That cooks even faster for less propane used/ heat. Silicone sounds good, but it’s not sturdy enough; we have reusable silicone muffin tin liners.
  • Cookie sheet: we have a single cookie sheet that does double duty as a stove-top griddle for toasted sandwiches or the current favorite, quesadillas. A silicone baking mat (I love Silpat mats!) helps keep things clean and lets me rotate it through more dishes.

Galley favorites

These are items I might have had at home, but overlooked, where on the boat they get a lot of use. Some made it into my kitchen-to-galley transition post for that reason!

  • Citrus press. Here in Mexico, there are a lot of limones to make limonada from! Also: margaritas. Get a good one, not cheap junk.
  • A small scale, to weigh and also—importantly!—to convert weights between imperial and metric, since most of the world is metric. Ours looks a lot like this; this makes recipe conversions easier for me.
  • Yogurt maker. I used to just buy yogurt; on board I make it. I used to think foofy makers like our Easiyo (basically, a big thermos) were unnecessary and I would make my own yogurt just fine on the stove. Which I could. But then I inherited this beauty from a cruiser retiring to land and it makes yogurt foolproof.   
  • Cheese grater. OK, so this had a lot of use before, too, but that old box grater is NOT boat-storage-friendly! The key is to get a FLAT grater: we have one like this. Our kids are powered by quesadillas, cheese grater required.
  • Mandoline. It makes quick work (and beautifully even slices) of veggies; thin, uniform slices cook more efficiently, and I’m all about less time in a hot galley in the tropics. We currently have an Oxo mandoline.
  • Immersion blender. Most of the time it purees soups or makes smoothies, but it’s also great for pureeing up a batch of hummus and when we had a bowl attachment (lost, wah!), it chopped veggies for salsa etc. as well. Highly versatile replacement for multiple kitchen gadgets.

Coconut grater in use, held down by the weight of the person grating
Less frequently used: a manual coconut grater

This highlights what we use most on board, to help inform a minimalist galley setup. In New and Overwhelmed?, Carolyn’s got another great list to help anyone moving aboard. There’s more in our galleys, of course, that shifts in use over seasons and regions as different ingredients, dishes and flavors pass through our lives. It’s part of the fun of cruising! These are our basics, and where I’d start if we were outfitting a new galley.

Cooking aboard: migrating kitchen to galley

spicy red chiles in a calabash bowl

pinterest kitchen to galley migration

We love to cook. Moving from a spacious, well-equipped kitchen on land to a compact galley on a sailboat did nothing to impact our enthusiasm for creating and enjoying delicious meals. Until you live this truth, it may feel elusive; it’s easy to presume that cooking aboard approximates camping cuisine. I want to kick that misconception to the curb. Or reef. Or whatever! 

This post is part one in a series of galleywise topics, starting with a look at kitchen appliances. What makes the transition to the boat, what doesn’t, and how we compensate for equipment that doesn’t cross over. Are there some compromises? Probably, but do I feel for a moment deprived? Absolutely not!

[Yesterday’s article and video in CNN brought a raft of visitors. If you’re new to our blog, you might want to Start Here or read Who and Why. Welcome!]

Our kitchen on land included a professional range and more electrics than I can count on my hands. Some were everyday appliances, like our espresso machine; others had specialty use, like the Kitchen Aid standup mixer. We liked to entertain and these tools made it easier to cook for a crowd.

Aboard Totem, our galley may be a micro-sized and lightly equipped by comparison, but hasn’t compromised what we’re able to do. We still love to cook, to share meals aboard with friends, to explore the world through tastes and dishes. It cracked me up to see that CNN’s choice of a thumbnail for the video about our family happened to reference our love of food. THAT’S US!

CNN video about Sailing Totem family

In truth: most of our kitchen appliances did not get to the boat. It’s also true that I don’t miss them. OK, that’s a lie. Whipping cream by hand is a pain in the arm, but that’s why I have helpers! But only rarely do the gadgets offer function that can’t be replicated with a simpler tool, or time, or both. Here’s a comparison of commonly used appliances and how they fit in our land-to-boat transition.

On shore: On Totem:
Blender Immersion blender. This gadget (aka stick blender, hand blender) makes everything from smoothies to pureed soups to hummus. AC powered and a big amperage draw, but that’s OK since it’s only on for about 30 seconds! Ours is a much older version of this 400 watt model. Don’t undersize the wattage! At a more extreme end, I have a friend on a relatively low-tech boat that sized their inverter JUST so she could have her VitaMix on board.
Food processor Mandoline. What can I say, I like making perfectly thin and uniform slices of vegetables sometimes! This makes easy, pretty work of things like potatoes and tomatoes. Get 3-4 years from the blades, we currently have an Oxo mandoline. 

More chopper than processor, but there are manual devices that stand in for smaller jobs. Many immersion blender models come with an attachment bowl with a blad powered by the wand.

Mixer For more general mixing, a bowl and spoon are enough. For whipping cream, beating egg whites, or emulsifying aioli (OK so that’s about once a year), a flat whisk stores compactly and gets the job done with a little elbow grease. Helpers are nice.
Coffee/espresso machine Nothing! There are many ways to make coffee aboard, but our shmancy machine isn’t necessary. OK, so I do miss the frother/steamer for milk…

Bread machine Making bread by hand is actually pretty easy; it just takes time, which we have. Sometimes the bread onshore is good enough that I don’t feel compelled (why compete with baguettes on a French island?). Bread machines need space and power, so aren’t a great fit for most boats, but cruisers with power to run one benefit from a cooler galley when baking bread. (Land- and sea-version recipe for our favorite bread, pictured above, in this post.)
Microwave There’s a stove? Microwaves offer convenience we don’t need. The best use other than reheating might be making a hot drink for night watch – but if you’re moving around much on a passage, kettles are safer than the microwave as vessel for boiling hot water.
Toaster Stovetop. Some boats have a toaster; we just make toast in a griddle pan on the stovetop; monitoring necessary, but an electric appliance is not required.
Crock pot Power-hungry crock pots aren’t a good fit for most boats. Our Solavore solar oven acts a lot like a crock pot, cooking at low temperatures for hours; we don’t have one, but friends who do swear by a Thermal Cooker or Wonderbag for the same purpose: slow, unattended cooking.
Instant pot Pressure cooker. A pressure cooker on steroids is all that Instant Pot is! Modern pressure cookers are kind of awesome; programmable functions aren’t necessary.

Some boats do have items we chose to forego; it’s a function of having space and power to make them work. But my point here: so much of what we’re convinced are “needs” … aren’t, really. Like a lot of life afloat, things are simpler. Pared back, what served as a helpful convenience before becomes unnecessary clutter.

Baguettes delivered boatside making baking optional in this anchorage. Mexico, 2010.
Often our methods just need a little more time, and that’s OK. Malaysia, 2013.
At the end of the day, a simple meal is often best. Thailand, 2014.