Thursday, June 15

Lessons learned.

Towards the end of the trip I led an informal salon with tour participants on some of the food lessons I’d picked up about provisioning, storage and cooking on a boat. I'm not one to keep secrets about recipes or tips, so I was eager to share with everyone things that I’d found helpful or mistakes I’d made along the way. As usual, I learned just as much from them as they learned from me.

Here, in no particular order, follows some of these lessons learned. I might point out that a lot of these tips would apply to home storage as well, but were particularly important on the boat.

1. Storing greens and herbs: It is crucial to protect greens and herbs from moisture and oxygen. Wash herbs (for example parsley, mint and cilantro) and dry very well. You can dry them in a salad spinner and then dry again with some paper towels. Buy large high quality freezer ziplock bags. Place a few fresh sheets of paper toweling inside of the ziplock with the herbs. Roll out all the air (as if you were vacuum packing the bag) and seal well. Check every few days for moisture, replacing the now damp sheet of paper towel with a dry one and reseal.

Romaine lettuce lasts the longest stored this way, but red leaf and green leaf can be kept for at least a week in this fashion. I learned this tip, first from Lynne Rossetto Kasper - one of my favorite public radio food personas - and then it was reinforced daily at the Herbfarm. Since then I've never stood herbs in jars of water in the fridge where, thankfully, they won't be toppling over on everything ever again.

2. Using and growing fresh herbs: It goes without saying that fresh herbs can really improve the flavor of your food and add some freshness when you are having a hard time finding produce. Basil should be stored as above but tends to do better left in a dry cool place out of refrigeration. If you can, plant up a large pot with tarragon, mint, basil, thyme, etc…and it will do well in a warm place protected from the cold and the wind. On Sanctuary I was able to keep a pot of herbs doing really well up on the fly bridge which acted like a modified greenhouse. Beware of keeping a pot of herbs anywhere salt water is likely to be misting the leaves. I had the pot on the aft deck at first and within 2 days they looked like goners for sure. A little r and r on the fly bridge and all was well.

3. Storage: For space reasons, try to find a cool dark place to store onions, potatoes, and garlic. Choose a different place to store citrus fruit and apples. At first I had my produce in bags but as soon as one developed mold it would quickly spread to the others. One day I stepped out onto the bow deck and reached into the under seat compartment for what appeared to be a perfectly sound sweet potato. You know that feeling when you grab for what appears to be a glass and it's actually plastic and you almost throw it over your head? I reached my hand in quickly and efficiently, fully expecting the weight and heft of a sweet potato. What met my hand was a yielding, gooey, orange illusion of a sweet potato. I squished it completely between my fingers and had to laugh outloud at how disgusting it was.

It was then that Margo suggested changing tacks and really letting the produce get some air. We separated all the items from each other by putting them in a long, wide, cabinet where there was ample air circulation. This made a huge difference and I found the rate of spoilage was reduced significantly. Check your produce regularly and remove soft items to a place in the galley where you’ll see them and can use them up quickly. And for god sake's... never trust a sweet potato in storage again. Stick those in cold storage as soon as you have room.

4. Meal tips:

Make up large batches of granola. Mix up the dry ingredients for muffins or scones in advance (measure out 5 times and set aside in ziplock bags) Mix up the wet ingredients the morning of. You can mix up oatmeal, brown sugar and salt for the whole trip and then pack it in ziplock or in plastic Tupperware.

Lunches: Grain salads last several days under refrigeration and can be made with many pantry items. Soups can be made in larger batches and frozen in portions to use throughout the trip.

Dinners: Plan on catching or buying fresh fish along the way, but stock the boat in case you have a hard time finding it. Freeze chicken breasts, sausage, and steaks. Serve simple salads that are fresh but last a long time on the boat. Later in our trip in the most remote of Alaskan anchorages, it was really surprising and pleasing to have a fresh salad that didn't rely on greens and that had lasted the entire 3 weeks. Combine orange slices with thinly sliced fennel bulb, shaved parmesan and kalamata olives. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice on top. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Blog Update:
I have one more final entry related to my Alaskan trip and then within a few weeks I'm going to redesign the site a bit. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if you want to receive an email notification when I've added a new post you can sign up (simply and easily) with Blogarithm.

Photo note: I took the above photograph in Ketchikan. The fish are herring and they were being processed on the fishing boat that was docked right next to ours. The herring are used as bait fish for the Alaskan black cod fisheries. The guys on the boat were really friendly and were curious about my job cooking on a yacht. Within 10 minutes of chatting one of them was handing across a plate to me with his homemade wild smoked salmon pate on what essentially looked like hardtack. It pleased me to no end. In return I threw over a pound bar of Valrhona chocolate. Good food makes good neighbors.


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