Galley secrets from a former professional chef

*reminder: Milou is for sale! Check it our on our sale page, here.*

Ok, I don’t really have any secrets. I just find it hilarious how a provocative headline pulls in readers. Hello, everyone! But after almost two years of full-time cooking on this boat, I do have some strong ideas about what has worked well for us, and what might work well for you.

  1. Bring what you love. Dedicated cooks all have tools to which they are attached beyond reason. For me, those things included: cast iron pans; high-quality carbon steel knives; a good ceramic casserole dish; and beautiful ceramics for tea and coffee. According to Conventional Wisdom, none of these things should have a place on my boat. According to Me, they were invaluable. Yes, I did allow the casserole dish to escape the oven containment system early on during a rough passage, and broke a handle; but for the most part, these precious items have held up to the salt air and knocking about of boat life. The cast iron has not rusted; the teapot is in good kit. One mug is cracked—after two years of daily coffee use, so about the same as land life. Meanwhile, we’ve enjoyed a lot of cozy mugs of tea during cold, wet weather, and countless coffees while watching the sunrise over a sweet island or new town. When your kitchen is tiny, treasured things become even more valuable. Bring your favorite mug.
  2. DSCF3841Pour-over coffee is the best thing. So much research went into this decision! And yes, I love a good french press; but the amount of water needed to clean out the pot made it impractical for us. Those K-cup-pod things are disasters of plastic production. We didn’t want to burn extra fuel to percolate something. Pour-over coffee into a bombproof thermos means zero plastic, and delicious coffee that stays warm for many hours. Filters have been available everywhere we’ve traveled. Extra bonus points to the hand-powered coffee mill.
  3. Do not discount the grill. We didn’t have a working one for the first six months we were traveling, and we see now how foolish that was. Corollary: metal skewers, for all your kabobbing needs.
  4. Let me introduce you to the baking cupboard. Whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, various extracts including but not limited to vanilla, powdered milk, white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, oats, cornmeal, molasses, yeast, cornstarch. This is what we have consistently stocked. Once upon a time, we also carried bread flour, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen it…like, over a year. Anyway, this one cupboard in our boat stores all the goods for baking, with backups in inaccessible places like under T’s bunk. Open when we’re baking (or making pancakes); closed and out of the way when we’re not.
  5. DSC_0526Double sink is the best sink. If you have a boat with one of those cute round sink basins the size of a grapefruit, please rip it out immediately and take a trip to Home Depot. A double sink means dirty dishes are shunted off to the side during annoying passages, but everyone can still wash their hands and get a drink without running into the leftover curry.
  6. Floating utensil holder. We installed this before departure, and thank god. In the event of a true knockdown, we’d probably have ladles flying around, but for easy access and storage, it’s been fantastic. No counter space required. I have not seen this idea in use on any other boat, but cannot recommend it highly enough.DSC_0487
  7. Knives in sheathes. So many message boards with so many people storing their knives on magnetic strips. Please do not do this. Knife in sheath; sheathed knife in cabinet. Fingers and toes safe.
  8. Glass storage. We try to cut back on plastic around here, and were warned (conventional wisdom again!) that glass storage has no place on boats. We ignored all that, and put stuff in glass mason jars with plastic lids, plus a few snap-ware storage containers with glass bases. We regret nothing. (And to keep rattling to a minimum, we cut the tops off our worn-out wool socks and made little snug jackets for the jars.)
  9. Kick-butt refrigeration. Did anyone else read all those Lin and Larry books and think to themselves, I don’t really need to spend all that money on refrigeration…I can just use ice! Anyone? I know that thought occurred to me. Listen to me now: do not think you are as tough as Lin Pardey. You are not. We spent one summer using ice; the food was always wet, and I expected everything to go bad every second. Since those crazy days, Michu insulated the heck out of our fridge, and installed a keel-cooled Frigoboat refrigeration system. It’s quiet, uses almost no energy, and keeps things actually cold. Love, love, love.
  10. Kitchen timer. Because you are paying attention to other things. You will not remember the rice when the dolphins show up; you will forget the bread, because it takes longer than normal bread in your dinky oven and you will have moved on. It is not a sign of weakness to use the timer.
  11. A couple of really good and inspiring cookbooks. I have met so many boats where people forgot to bring a cookbook, and I don’t understand this. I am a professional chef, people; I went to school for the cooking of the food; if you put me in a room with ten random ingredients and a heat source, I will come up with a meal. I still use cookbooks. Rick Bayless has never been more valuable, now that the market is overflowing with tomatillos; Deborah Madison has ideas about those lentils that would never occur to me. I am bored with all dinner options, but David Waltuck has a plan. Fill your Kindle with novels; fill your shelves with reference books; make sure some of them are about cooking. (And if it’s just one, it should probably be The Boat Galley, by Carolyn Shearlock. I’m not discussing a lot of common galley info here, of the don’t-store-onions-and-apples-together variety, and it’s all in there.)
  12. Bag your food. Most people researching boat life have come across the suggestion to prep up a few passage meals in advance. Nowhere does it say to store them in gallon-sized zip-loc freezer bags. Not only does this technique take up less space in your tiny fridge, it allows you to roll up the bag and clean it out later (or throw it away) instead of washing up the storage dishes in rough seas.
  13. Best make-ahead passage meals on our boat: poke bowls (add sashimi if you catch a good fish); curry, especially an Indonesian-inspired one from Deborah Madison; groundnut stew, based on a recipe from Sundays at Moosewood; leftover cold boat pizza.

We haven’t cooked every single meal on our boat, but I think our percentage is higher than your average cruiser—and there were certainly weeks and weeks where going out wasn’t an option. Breakfast, lunch and dinner for four people—we’ve churned it out. Our galley is small, we don’t have a microwave, I’m scared of pressure cookers, but we’ve done pretty well. These are a few of the things that have made it work for us. Throw in a couple dozen tea towels, and you’re all set!

Bonus Recipe: Boat PizzaDSC_0491 (1)

We’ve made a lot of pizza on this boat, and it’s all about technique. You can use whatever bread dough you want (although I’ll tell you what we use); bust out the jarred sauce (like us) or make your own; top with whatever is at hand.

Whatever you do, don’t attempt to cook this in in the solar oven. Steamed pizza is not a thing.


3 tbsp or one packet dried yeast. These are not the same quantities, but it doesn’t really matter.

2 cups warm water…or whatever temp the water is in your tanks

1 tbsp honey, or sugar, or agave, or whatever sweetener you have

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp salt

5-51/2 cups flour, depending on humidity. I like half whole wheat, half all-purpose, but, whatever.

Mix the yeast, water, and sweetener until yeast is dissolved and let sit until yeast starts to bloom like a weird fungus across the top of the liquid. Add rest of ingredients and mix to combine, then knead for a bit. Let proof in a big bowl with a big plate on top, or a damp towel on top, or in a zip-loc bag, depending on what you’ve got.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down by kneading it a bit more. Let rise until doubled again, if you have the time. Or not.

Preheat the oven to As Hot As Possible. Position your one spindly oven rack to the upper third of your oven, if you can.

Divide the dough into four portions for a pretty-thin crust, three for a breadier crust. Roll out the first crust until it just overhangs the dimensions of a quarter-sheet pan (or whatever fits in your oven). Pour a bunch of olive oil on your pan, then add more; you should have more oil on the pan than you would ever normally use—it’ll help crisp the crust and really keep things from sticking. Lay the dough out on the pan; add tomato sauce, pesto, cheese, pepperoni, olives, or whatever you’ve got laying around. (Don’t discount the beauty of brushing the crust with oil, and sprinkling with cheese or herbs or both and using it for hors d’oeuvres.)

Place the first pizza DIRECTLY ON THE FLOOR OF THE OVEN, and prep the next pizza. When the cheese from pizza number one is starting to look pretty soft, switch it to the oven rack and put your next pizza down on the oven floor. Repeat.

3 Comments on “Galley secrets from a former professional chef

  1. You guys are so clever!
    Deb, as a former cater, I am fasciated with your wisdom and ingenuity.
    You must definitely write a book full of your lore and wisdom.
    How close are you to Northern California now?
    So looking forward to seeing you!

    Aunt Bee

    • Hi, Bee! We’ll be in Mexico until early June, most likely, so we won’t see California for a while. We’ll keep you posted!

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