When I first started sailing on a San Juan 28 I had a very small galley with very little storage. I had grown up car camping, so while I knew the basics of keep it simple, I hadn’t appreciated the challenges with a smaller space on a sailboat. I had zero knowledge of any tips for cooking on a sailboat. Car camping you just used your trunk as your pantry, had a large cooler for whatever you needed, and were accustom to the luxury of the large picnic tables as your kitchen table.
Boating is a little different. On my San Juan 28 we did have a good sized ice box, but the lid of the ice box served as my only counter space. I did have a little extra counter space, but that space was also shared as the stair used to get from the cockpit into the salon.
At first I went with my comfort area and just stocked my galley like I would for a camping trip. I had plastic plates and cups, cutlery, a couple pots, a frying pan, and I planned meals similar to camping. Over the years, I got accustom to the smaller space and went from having canned chili for dinner, to great one pot meals and Thanksgiving dinner! I have learnt that the size of your galley does not prevent you from cooking fantastic meals, you just have think and sometimes be creative! Here are my 6 tips for cooking that have helped me break free and keep sane working within a small space.
1. Extend your Counter Space
Get more prep space by getting a cover for the burners on your stove or an over the sink cutting board. I can’t tell you how much the over the sink cutting board changed my life. I’ve seen both wood or plastic inserts that fit snug over your sink, or you can just diy and buy a large wood cutting board that covers the space. You can virtually double your prep space by using covers over your stove and your sink. I have seen boats with a wooden cutting board cover for their stove that was attached to a bar and easily swung up and down when you needed it.
2. Plan Ahead
At home with more counter space and a standalone fridge, you can easily spread out and not think too much about how you’re using the kitchen space. On a sailboat you need to plan ahead. If you’re making sandwiches you can’t start to make a sandwich station on your counter space that doubles as your icebox/fridge access.
When on a sailboat you need to plan your meal prep from start to finish to determine what you need when, and then reverse engineer how you’re going to make it work. Pull everything out of the fridge you need to access to first, and wash your lettuce first, letting you use the sink first, then put your over the sink cutting board insert in. Now you have all of your sandwich makings handy. I can’t count the number of times I have a meal prep in full swing and then realize I needed to get into the fridge, the space directly underneath where I a pile of things on top of.
Plan your meal from start to finish to determine what you need to access when.
2. Prep Everything Before you Start Cooking
Prepping everything before you start cooking may seem like you’re trying to do too much in a small space at one time, but it really does make everything so much easier. I heard over the years from many professional chefs that they always do all of their prep before they start cooking, but really, who actually does it?
On a sailboat I can tell you right now I’m converted. Preparing everything upfront makes it so much easier for when it comes time to cooking, and you’re not panicking trying to access your fridge to get that last ingredient. Your boat stove or oven also cooks differently than your home devices, so while you think you’ve mastered the timing of rotating between prepping and cooking ingredients, your boat stove and oven will likely through you a curve ball. Prepping everything in advance allows you to enjoy your time in the galley, maybe have a glass of wine while your cook. Galley cooking should be fun, you’re on your boat!
The one last note is that prepping ahead lets you plan out when you prep your raw meat. The last thing you want to do is cut some vegetables, cut your raw meat, and then realize you need to cut more vegetables, meaning you need space to wash the knife and cutting board. Boat galley’s are small, so planning out when you’re working with raw meat is important so you don’t contaminate anything.
3. One Pot Meals and Sheet Pan Dinners
Reducing the numbers of cooking pots and pans cuts down on dishes, and the space you need on the stove. I will admit I’m still working on refining the full breakfast days. For those mornings (before coffee) I’d make breakfast trying to squish two frying pans on the stove at the same time (1 for bacon, 1 for hash browns), oh but wait, I also need a burner for the kettle to make coffee/tea! Oh the joys of a stove with two cooking burners, and one warming burner that is extremely limited in space to use it when you’re already using your other two burners!
Dinners where I can through everything into a pan and into the over I love. Our favorite boat dinner is our one pan roast chicken dinner. Through in the cut up potatoes, chicken breasts, some whole carrots, a little olive oil and seasoning and in it goes into the oven. Sit back and enjoy a glass of wine while your sailboat gets warm from the the oven and your dinner just smells better and better as it cooks!
4. Reduce the Gadgets and Pots and Pans
Space is limited on a sailboat, be very thoughtful for what you have on your sailboat. Sailboat cooking isn’t the time to have purpose specific gadgets onboard, you want to have multipurpose tools and pots and pans. Look at things that can be stored stacked together. Nesting bowls and pots. Nesting bowls with lids are great for baking, making and serving a salad, and with the lid, leftovers can go in the fridge! If you haven’t learned how to poach an egg without your fancy egg poacher machine, now’s the time learn! You may be very surprised to learn you can cook gourmet meals with the core basic equipment.
5. Extend your Storage Space
I have a magnetic strip on the wall in my galley for storing my knives. Look at ways to maximize the use of your space. Utilize wall space and hang tea towels or a spice rack. Just look at your galley and think about how you can maximize the space.
You can plan to heart content, but in the end your working within the confinement of your surroundings. When you go to open your newly purchased sour cream container to discover it wasn’t sealed properly and is now moody, instead of thinking your meal is ruined, think of other options and alternative to sour cream. Check out my post on Never be out of Sour Cream Again.
When making a recipe and you realize you’re out of a spice, look at the other spices you have and just make the ditch with a slight different hint to it. Cooking is like chemistry, you need think of the basic elements that are needed and just experiment! Whether its the ingredients for a meal, or the method in cooking it, improvise with what you have onboard for a great meal!