There's nothing quite like enjoying a meal at sea, but it can be tricky to cook in a small galley and ingredients may not always be available. YBW speaks to Fiona Sims, the author of 'The Boat Cookbook: Real Food for Hungry Sailors', a book full of easy and mouthwatering recipes - many contributed by sailing and cooking legends such as Robin Knox-Johnson, Dee Caffari and Angela Hartnett - that are perfect to make on a boat.
Doesn’t food always taste better at sea? The smell of the sea in the air, sprays of salty water on the skin as you sail, the sun disappearing over the horizon… .Is there a better place than on a boat to crack open a cold beer or drink a glass of wine and enjoy a delicious meal? There’s nothing quite as lovely as eating on board, but nothing quite as tricky as preparing a delicious feast in a small space with limited tools, ingredients and often no fridge or oven.
Food, drink, travel writer and sailing-enthusiast Fiona Sims knows this all too well after many trips and many meals on boats.
Faced with the reality of meals on board, Sims has come come up with the idea of The Boat Cookbook: Real Food for Hungry Sailors. The writer has put together this wonderful recipe book with practicality in mind. She asked top chefs and sailing legends to share some of their favourite recipes. Angela Hartnett, Chris Galvin, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Dee Caffari are just a few names who have contributed to the book.
Author Fiona Sims
What inspired you to compile a cook book specific to cooking on boats with minimal equipment?
It’s who, rather than what – my Dad. He kept losing the scribbled-down recipes that I gave him to improve his basic cooking skills on board, which used to be all tinned Bolognese and powdered mash. And while some of the recipes might be useful for those on long ocean crossings, The Boat Cookbook is really intended for people, like me, who sail at weekends in boats with tiny galleys, and are looking for some inspiration.
How did your love for boats start?
I’ve been sailing since I was 8 years old. I grew up in south London and on weekends, from Easter through to the end of the summer, my parents would cram me, my younger sister and brother into the car and head down to Hythe on the south coast trailing a Mirror dinghy (and later a Laser), packed with a picnic and lifejackets hidden underneath the tarpaulin. I only started cooking on board in my early 20s when Dad owned his first proper sailing boat – a 23ft Virgo Voyager, with a postage stamp-sized kitchen, later progressing to cooking on Dad’s current, yacht, an aged 29ft Westerly Konsort, moored in Yarmouth Harbour on the Isle of Wight.
What’s the most basic dish you’ve made with the fewest of ingredients and kitchen tools that turned out to be a success?
My baked Vacherin, on page 95. When shoved in the oven in its box with a little wine, it makes an instant fondue, without all that grating and stirring. I might open a bag of salad and toss the leaves with a vinegary dressing to serve with it. And if Vacherin isn’t available, you can use a bog standard Camembert.
What are the most common mistakes people make when cooking (or hoping to cook) on a boat?
The secret to cooking on board is to go for dishes made with the minimum fuss and the maximum flavour, so don’t get too ambitious. Space is at a premium, so choose your kit carefully. Pots and pans should stack easily, and the dishes should be both oven- and table-friendly. There are lots of space-saving options around, so take advantage of the latest clever kitchenware – Joseph Joseph is a good source. Measure the top of your hob first and check that the pans will be able to sit together in most combinations.
What tips and tricks could you share with our readers?
Keep a master list of everything you stash on board, then every time you finish something, cross it off so you remember to replace it the next time you shop. Always have a store cupboard supper or two stashed away for when you arrive too late for the shops, or can’t get ashore. If you’re missing an ingredient, be brave and substitute another. Buy a good knife, keep it sharp and store it safely; it will make life on board easier and cut down on preparation times. Keep a stash of dried porcini on board – they tart up ordinary mushrooms a treat, and act as a flavour bomb for soups and stews.
Have you ever foraged your ingredients and what were the best ones you’ve found that went into a great recipe?
Come late summer you’ll find me in the hedgerows. British hedgerows in particular are bursting with wild blackberries. I add them to my porridge in the morning, or for a quick delicious dessert on board, smother sun-ripened blackberries with thick double cream, sprinkle over caster sugar and grill for 3-4 minutes.
Can you share a couple of dos and don’ts when cooking on a boat?
Do buy cheap non-stick frying pans (Ikea is a good source), far easier on the washing up and you can just bin them when the surfaces are worn
Don’t be afraid of a pressure cooker – it’s the fastest route to a sustaining meal on board, transforming dried beans into soups and stews in just 20 minutes, and it will survive happily after an errant wake.
The Boat Cookbook: Real Food for Hungry Sailors by Fiona Sims is published by Bloomsbury
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