Two chefs meet the challenge of preparing a fine meal in a boat kitchen
In the age of sail, meals at sea were prepared in rudimentary galleys. The fare consisted primarily of beef or pork, preserved in salt, soaked and boiled, along with dried peas or beans, and hardtack — unleavened bread called “sea biscuits.”
For a special treat on Sundays, the cook prepared a “duff,” using the fat saved from the surface of the meat-boiling pots and mixed with hardtack crushed with a belaying pin. It was then boiled in a bag into a kind of pudding. The addition of canned plums or raisins, if available, made the dish a highlight of the crew’s week.
We can do better than that now.
Galleys are even smaller on today’s cruising yachts — both power and sail — than those on 19th century sailing vessels. But today’s galleys are far better equipped, with most of the resources available in a home kitchen, though all on a much smaller scale.
Still, many cruising sailors content themselves with bologna and cheese sandwiches for lunch and canned stew for dinner. But in the hands of skilled chefs, the possibilities expand to the sublime.
We challenged Texas City Chef Nancy Manlove, an award-winning culinary artist who has competed in the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” and David Skinner, who is an owner and chef of Kemah restaurant Eculent, to demonstrate the high-end possibilities in the galley of a little cruising yacht.
Manlove has always loved to cook at home, but became a professional “personal chef” only after retiring from NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.
Raised as a “military brat,” her first job was with AT&T as a long-distance operator. Advances in technology overtook that job, but she persisted in the administration of high-tech projects for contractors associated with the space shuttle program.
“I’ve worked in the private sector all my life, and ended up with the United Space Alliance,” said Manlove, who is exacting and meticulous. “I worked with NASA, so I make lists for everything.”
Seeking a new career after she retired from the space program, Manlove decided to become a licensed chef and enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Galveston College under Paul Mendoza. She interned at Shearn’s Seafood and Prime Steaks at Moody Gardens in Galveston, and so impressed the management, she was offered a permanent position there. But Manlove decided to strike out on her own as a personal chef.
She earned her title as a celebrity chef with two appearances as a competitor on the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” which she won in 2015. She was asked to return this year, when she placed second.
A personal chef is not a caterer, but one who arrives to occupy a client’s kitchen and uses the tools available to create a feast.
Chef David Skinner’s career also has taken many turns.
“I started my first restaurant when I was 16, in the back of my grandmother’s kitchen-tool store in Oklahoma,” Skinner said. “I learned to cook from my grandmother, who was a pastry chef, and from Julia Child’s books.”
The restaurant was successful enough to help pay his way through college at Oklahoma State University, where he started as a chemistry major — he always liked science — but then switched to economics and finance.
Upon graduation, Skinner went to work for agricultural processing and commodities giant Archer Daniels Midland, where, among other things, he helped to build a probabilistic trading system for soybean futures. His career then returned him to science, as he worked in, and ran, research labs for DuPont, helping to commercialize the now ubiquitous Tyvek wrap for packaging and building, and in finding more Earth-friendly gases to replace the ones then used in refrigeration.
Leaving DuPont, he established his own consulting firm, serving the oil and gas, chemical, and oil field service industries. But in 2014, he was ready make a radical change, and opened Eculent, a high-concept restaurant in Kemah.
“You can call it modern farm-to-table cuisine, or some call it ‘molecular cooking,’” Skinner said. “But I don’t like those labels. We provide a uniquely choreographed dining experience. There is nothing like it in the world.”
Skinner has always enjoyed boating, and has owned a number of vessels, the latest a 55-foot motor yacht. He is accustomed to adapting his skills as a chef to galley cooking.
Here’s what the two chefs came up with for our gourmet galley challenge.
• Never-Fail Boat Frozen Margarita (Nancy Manlove): Lime juice, which is a main ingredient in this pre-dinner drink, was the answer to the problem of scurvy on long sailing voyages. Vitamin C deficiency is rare these days, but tequila and lime juice still tastes great.
• Ceviche (David Skinner): Seafood is often available to sailors in nearshore waters, and can supplement the stores carried aboard. This appetizer uses shrimp and scallops “cooked” in lemon and lime juice and doesn’t need a stove.
• Quick and Easy Kabobs (David Skinner): The entrée consists of marinated pork and beef chunks skewered with bell peppers, mushrooms and onions, and grilled outdoors.
• Red Quinoa Primavera with Grilled Pineapple (Nancy Manlove): A simple but spectacular side dish that can be tossed together just before serving.
• Grilled Pound Cake with Pecan Sauce (Nancy Manlove’s family recipe): Baking a pound cake takes some preparation, but this dessert can be adapted using a store-bought pound cake and grilled just before serving.
Chef Nancy Manlove’s Never Fail Boat Frozen Margarita
INGREDIENTS (per person)
3 ounces Tequila (2 ounces for a less strong drink)
2 ounces lime juice
1 ounce triple sec or other
1 tablespoon sugar
Lime slice for garnish
Mix the lime juice and sugar together until dissolved. Fill a blender with ice and all ingredients. Blend well and pour into a chilled glass rimmed with the lime salt. Garnish with a lime slice.
Zest from one lime
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
Mix all ingredients together and store in a sealed container that’s bigger than the glass.
Chef David Skinner’s Day Boat Ceviche
½ pound bay scallops
½ pound peeled and deveined shrimp
¼ cup olive oil
6 limes, juiced
4 lemons, juiced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 jalapeño, minced
6 green onions, (white and greens) thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bag corn tortilla chips
Rinse scallops and shrimp with cold water and place in a stainless steel bowl. Pour juice from the limes and lemons over the seafood. Make sure the juice completely covers the shrimp and scallops. Place in the refrigerator and let marinate for at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally to make sure all seafood is “cooked” (will become opaque when cooked).
Once the shrimp and scallops are cooked, pour the juice off and put it in a blender. Blend on high and gradually add the olive oil to make an emulsion.
In the stainless bowl, add all the vegetables to the shrimp and scallops and mix well. Pour the olive oil emulsion into the bowl and mix well again. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Put finished ceviche in a nice bowl and serve with corn chips.
Chef David Skinner’s Quick and Easy Kabobs
These are great for boating because you can make them ahead, and the small chunks of meat cook quickly on a propane grill.
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds New York strip loin cut into 1 inch cubes
3/4 pound cured pork belly or smoked bacon cut into 1-inch cubes
¼ cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
8 button mushrooms
1 green bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, cut into large 1-inch pieces
8 wooden skewers
In a stainless steel bowl, whisk the olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, black pepper and salt together and pour into a 1-gallon resealable bag. Add the beef to the bag, squeeze out excess air, seal and refrigerate for 4 or more hours.
Mix the pork rub ingredients in 1-gallon resealable bag and add the pork belly coating each piece well. Place in refrigerator to marinate.
Oil the grate of your outdoor grill with olive oil and preheat the grill to at least 250 F before putting the kabobs on the grill.
Remove the beef and pork belly from the bags and alternate with the vegetables on the skewer. Cook the skewers on the preheated grill, turning frequently until browned on all sides and to your preference for meat doneness.
Chef Manlove’s Red Quinoa Primavera with Grilled Pineapple
A tasty, simple recipe that gets tossed together right before serving. Serve at room temperature.
1 cup uncooked quinoa (of any color)
1 fresh golden pineapple
1/2 cup olive oil
¼ cup honey
½ red bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
½ yellow bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
2 green onions, trimmed and cut into julienne strips
¼ cup pine nuts
1 ripe avocado, pit removed and cut into a medium size dice, discarding the skin
6 lime wedges
2 tablespoons red wine
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons finely minced shallots
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
Prepare the quinoa according to the package directions and without any salt. Drain and place in a large bowl. Let cool for 1 hour.
While the quinoa cooks and cools, cut the pineapple in half and then in quarters length-wise. Carefully cut the skin off the wedges, keeping it in one piece. This will serve as a boat-like cradle for the dish. Trim and clean up the pineapple top leaves.
When the grill is ready, brush the pineapple wedges lightly with some of the oil and place them on the grill. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes per side, until nicely charred and lightly colored. Remove to a serving plate and drizzle with honey. Cut each wedge into ½-inch slices and again into halves to create a tidbit size of pineapple.
Combine the rest of the olive oil, red wine, shallots, salt and black pepper in a small bowl and whisk. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Add dressing, red and yellow bell peppers, green onions, pine nuts, pineapple tidbits and toss well. Squeeze two of the lime wedges over the avocado dices and then add them to the quinoa mixture; toss gently.
To serve, place each pineapple boat on a plate and fill hollow with a portion of the of the quinoa mixture. Serve with the remaining lime wedges.
Chef Manlove’s Family Roots Pound Cake with Pecan-Caramel Sauce
“This pound cake is a family heirloom recipe,” Manlove said. “I got it from my mom, who got it from my aunt. It has been in our family since the 1940s. I make my own caramel sauce, and of course, use my Texas yard pecans. It’s a treasured tradition that we always ate plain or with ice cream or coffee. Many years ago, I offered it with this sauce at my Dickens on the Strand party, and it was well received. Serving this boat side is easy because it’s toteable. I have chosen to grill the slices and drizzle it with my homemade sauce, but you can take a shortcut and buy an already made pound cake and bottled sauce, too.”
Servings: 8 to 12, depending upon the slice size.
3 sticks of butter (24 tablespoons)
3 cups granulated white sugar
5 large eggs
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted two times.
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup of toasted pecans
1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup hot water
½ stick of unsalted butter (4 tablespoons)
1 pinch of sea salt (not table salt)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cake
All ingredients should be at room temperature. Preheat oven to 325 F. Place butter and sugar in mixing bowl and beat on medium high speed with an electric mixer until the mixture is creamy, about 3 minutes.
Add one egg at a time, beating after each is added, until egg is blended in.
Add all the remaining cake ingredients and beat until smooth.
Pour into a greased and lightly floured tube pan or 2 (9-inch) loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake area. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes.
Loosen sides of the cake by running a knife or spatula around the inside wall of the pan. Turn the pan upside down and allow to cool at room temperature.
For the pecan-caramel sauce
Toast the pecans atop the stove in a dry, non-stick skillet on medium heat for about 10 minutes; watching them carefully and continually shaking the skillet. Remove them from the skillet and allow them to cool on a plate. Set aside.
Place the sugar and water in a large 3-quart heavy bottomed and spotlessly clean saucepan. Heat the sugar over a medium-high heat;the sugar will begin to melt and that’s when you should begin to stir it vigorously with a wooden spoon. As soon as the sugar comes to a boil, stop stirring. Swirl the pan, but don’t stir.
Reduceheat to a medium low and add in the butter, salt and whipping cream. Stir until well blended and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in vanilla extra and pecans and cook another few minutes to thicken further. Turn off the heat, allow to cool slightly and pour the sauce into a microwavable container or jar with a lid.
Use immediately or refrigerate. If chilled, put the container in the microwave and heat for 20 to 30 seconds before using.
To serve grilled: Cut the cake into the number of slices needed and place each slice on the grill over medium-heated surface area of the grill. Allow each side to take on grill marks. Remove from the grill and place each slice on a plate. Drizzle a portion of the Pecan-Caramel Sauce atop.
Optional garnishes: Add a dollop of whipped cream and mint leaves.
Top 10 tips for galley cooking from Chef David Skinner
1. Keep it simple. Don’t try to make a complex recipe with lots of ingredients. Space and appliances are limited. But this doesn’t mean you have to make hot dogs for every meal.
2. Be ready to make ingredient substitutions. You may have forgotten something, or something may go bad on the boat. You can’t run to the store, so you need to understand how to substitute ingredients.
3. Be water conscious. On a cruise, you’ll have a limited volume on board. Don’t make recipes that use lots of water or have lots of pots and pans to clean up.
4. Make the most use of common ingredients so you can minimize waste and storage. For instance, you could bake potatoes and scoop out the inside for mashed potatoes to go with your main course, and sprinkle cheese on the skins as an appetizer.
5. Appreciate that your galley is always in motion. Even at the dock, the boat will rock due to wave action. Large pots of boiling water or grease for frying can pose a serious risk. Plan your recipes accordingly.
6. Have plenty of snacks. Even with great planning, boating provides issues that you usually don’t face at home. Wind can cool grills or put out the fire, making grilled dishes take much longer to cook. Propane stoves in the galley can run out of fuel, etc. Having snacks for your crew or guests to enjoy while you are working out the issues makes your life much less stressful and keeps them happy, too.
7. Whenever possible, use an outside grill. Inside cooking will heat and smell up the boat. Home kitchens have lots of ventilation space compared to a galley, which is small and usually has very poor ventilation. Remember, you can cook in pots on a grill, just like a gas stove in the galley.
8. Cooking underway is not the same as cooking at the dock. Keep in mind the availability of missing ingredients as well as the wave action when cooking at sea. All the issues are more intense. Focus on making simple recipes that can be served cold.
9. Have a list of standby recipes. Have your set of never-fail recipes that you can make quickly and simply. After a fun day on the water, you don’t need the frustration of a recipe that doesn’t turn out well.
10. Have fun. Boating can be a relaxing weekend hobby or a way of life. The more relaxed you are in preparing meals, the more enjoyable the day will be for your guests, family or crew.
Finally, be sure your fire extinguisher is up to date and handy. Like a collision, a galley fire at sea can ruin your whole day.