Daniela Meloni, a passionate sailor and expert in 'high level of simplicity' cooking, uses her experience to provide us with ideas and suggestions on how best to organise the kitchen and galley of our boats.

It is evening. As the sun goes down, the breeze is still stiff and the boat sails beautifully over these miles that we wish would never end. But the fateful phrase brings us back to reality: "What time is dinner?".

You are the cook on a beautiful sailboat or it is simply your turn among the friends on the sailing holiday. The thought runs faster than upwind: 'Goodbye sickle! Below the galley is tilted, where will the pot be? Upwind! Will it fall down with all the other dishes when I open it? And the knives? And where are those fresh tomatoes? In the locker under the dunnage, the one that always smells rotten because nobody takes the potatoes out of the plastic bag?"

Eating on board is one of the essential components of a sailing holiday, but without a little method it can become a real nightmare, fuelling bad moods and unnecessary fatigue.

In this article, we will not give you recipes. Rather a series of suggestions to improve your performance as a cook on a boat. Small reflections born of many experiences, cooking during transfers, charters, or regattas, united by the fact that we almost always have small, under-equipped kitchens.

The watchword: simplify and optimise without sacrificing quality and finesse.

Let's start with the equipment.
The size of the kitchen must become irrelevant. Be tidy and essential. You don't need a big kitchen, but an efficient one. I apply the same principle on the boat as I do on land, whether I am cooking for four people or for the 22 crew members of a Maxy Yacht.
Few tools, but good ones, and if ashore the number is 3, in the boat we can go as low as 2.

  • Knives: a Santoku (ductile, can be used for everything) and a paring knife (ditto). Both well-sharpened.
  • Pots: one 7/8 litre steel pot and one 5 litre pressure cooker, useful whether you are cooking for 4 people or 8 (check that the valve works properly, if in doubt have it serviced before leaving).
  • Pans: one iron 28 cm diameter (always keep it a little greasy, otherwise it will rust), one aluminium 26 cm. No Teflon and imitation stone bottoms, we are starting to be sustainable even on boats and prefer materials for our preparations that we don't end up with on our plates after a couple of uses.
  • Baking tins: 2 small aluminium baking tins, high rim (always bear in mind the size of the oven before assembling the equipment).
  • Equipment: 2 ladles, a flat wooden one and a concave one for liquids, 2 well-functioning potato peelers (so you can hand one to the first unfortunate person passing by who will help with potatoes and carrots), possibly steel tongs (like the one shown in the photo), a grater like Microplaneand a good multipurpose steel scissors.
  • Tupperwareonly transgression to the numerical rule! Having 6 or 8 on board will suffice, of all sizes and strictly the same shape, so that they can be stacked together.
    That's it, believe me. No more treasure hunts and drawers overflowing with useless things, toppling over at the first turn.

La Cambusa.
Here the variables to be taken into account are in this order: the capacity of the lockers, the fridge and possibly the freezer and their internal temperature, the duration of the voyage, the people on board, menu preferences and finally, but very importantly, any allergies.
We start at the end.

Quality. A compromise has to be found between a gourmet menu (we don't give up eating well), the location of the boat - the availability of the moment - the route.
Don't get lost in complicated dishes. Everything can be done, but all at a price, which on a boat translates into spending many hours below deck in the kitchen, turning on the oven and cooker, producing heat and sapping the boat's consumption and resources, and upstream doing endless and complicated shopping.
Back to the numerical rule. Of the 3 this time. Great chefs come up with superb dishes with 3 ingredients. Give yourself this rule and you will turn the corner. A trivial example? Steamed squid, gently boiled in a little water, seasoned with top-quality olive oil emulsified with a little of the cooking water and hard-boiled egg yolk crumbled on top (a few drops of lemon, salt and pepper to taste, but nothing more). Try it to believe...
Quality obviously translates into 'good quality ingredients'. The supermarket closest to the harbour can hardly serve this purpose. If time permits (but make sure you find it!), go a little further afield, seek out the village market, the fisherman, the market gardener, the baker. Better still: go into a non-tourist café for breakfast, don't be in a hurry; make small talk, be respectful and knowledgeable (prepare yourself beforehand on local ingredients and typical dishes, it will become a way of creating empathy). In no time at all, you will know where to get the best or, have it brought on board with a few phone calls (clarify costs beforehand and don't be 'gulled').
The food produced in a place tells its history and culture. Often seeking it out produces other stories, adventures, acquaintances and friendships. Consider putting a slice of all this on the table: it will become the flavour of your journey as well as your plate.

Quantity: the composition of the meal.
This is extremely important for a balanced diet, in everyday life, but also on holiday. Eating right equals feeling better and enjoying our holiday days.
At lunch, doing a bit of approximation, the distribution of caloric intake can look like this: a 70% between fruit and vegetables, 15% of carbohydrates and 15% of protein; at dinner 60% between fruit and vegetables, 20% on the rest.

The doses. One of the most difficult things and nowadays much taken into account in studies on food waste. The right amount of food stowed in the boat not only becomes a matter of saving money, but also of saving energy and, above all, space. Consider the average portion of pasta between 70/90 grams. Forget about those who boast or claim 150 grams of pasta: if the dish is well seasoned and the rest of the meal correct, the strenuous carbohydrate consumer will never reach the point of claiming such an abundant dose (not even a Grinder after a regatta, I assure you!).
Yes to cheese, fresh or grated. Plenty of seasoning, measure a weight per person almost equivalent to the weight of the pasta portion. Calculate an extra portion for every five people and, little trick, watch the first few meals and calibrate yourself accordingly for the continuation. If the sauce also has the right protein intake, you are almost there and don't skimp on vegetables and fruit. If not, combine a legume, meat or fish. If what you have decided to cook is a single dish, the average doses to take into account will be: 150/180 grams of meat, 250/300 grams of fish (raw weight without bones or bones), 250/300 grams of vegetables (always calculated raw).

Bread. Carbohydrates are fundamental in the Mediterranean diet, the complete meal requires them. All Mediterranean countries have excellent traditions of typical breads. Start with fresh bread, preferring sourdough bread (it lasts longer and does not produce mould). Take dry breads too: they are formidable offered as croutons to support diced tomatoes, vegetables in general (seasoned as desired with anchovies, olives, cheese and capers) or the complete meal with meat and fish, avoiding the need to make pasta all the time.
The sachet of brewer's yeast that you will have brought can be used to make pita bread, a kind of Arab bread that rises slightly and can be baked quickly in an iron pan, since it cooks quickly and with little energy consumption (it is found in the Greek culinary tradition, but also in other countries of the Mediterranean belt), or the inevitable pizza prepared on a one-off basis (I prefer low-energy procedures), on long crossings.

The indispensable basics. Wherever you are (but it's easy in the Mediterranean), don't get on a boat without good quality olive oil, white vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, capers, anchovy paste, honey (a spoonful combined with vinegar will produce some terrific sweet and sour to give some verve to carrots, onions, peppers etc.), oregano, cinnamon. I always carry some Ras El Hanout (a Moroccan melange of spices that adds an indecipherable note that enhances meat and fish), marjoram, rosemary. Store it in sealed sachets that take up very little space, sealed in turn inside a larger one. Of course, when I'm on the ground, I don't miss the chance to look at markets or even flower beds or gardens for a sprig of something fresh.

Fresh food, canned food. No doubt you prefer fresh food, but a supply of tinned food can always come in handy. I choose them of good quality and use them residually. Chickpeas, cannellini beans, peas and lentils can enrich a salad or vegetable soup, providing the right protein to exclude the need for meat or fish.
Tuna (prefer higher quality Sardinian or Sicilian tuna) and tinned meat can accompany salads or boiled potatoes, fresh or stewed tomatoes, aubergines al funghetto in a pressure cooker. With a sauce of good olive oil, parsley, basil and/or using the 'must-have' herbs oregano, rosemary and marjoram, combined as you like, you have a great complete dish that you won't find in restaurants near the ports.
Plenty of fresh food, but with a lot of care and above all some planning: study well the sailing times that separate you from the next port. Do not fill the boat with fresh food that you will then have to throw overboard because it is rotten. Courgette, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers and carrots hold up quite well. Store them in a cool locker, without plastic bags; if you buy them already in paper bags it is even better. Use a perforated box and cover them with a wet cloth which you moisten from time to time. Tomatoes of many ripenesses, even green ones (you can use them to give a hint of tomato green to some dishes - perhaps with a few drops of honey); you will consume them as they ripen, so you can go on for up to a week.
A classic that makes either a side dish for fish and white meat, or a main course with the addition of tuna and olives, served on a crostone of bread: the Ra-ta-touile. Recipes everywhere on the web. You add a bit of Ras El Honout, oregano, pepper, white vinegar and honey.
Green vegetables do not last long and are often grown in greenhouses in the summer: the classic Iceberg should be banned by law, it is loaded with fertilisers that make it indigestible, always wrapped in a kilo of plastic, it often looks like plastic too. Take as little as possible, with a view to consuming it immediately.
The rule that should generally always be kept in mind is to consume fresh food according to its shelf life: one should consume first those that last less and finish with those whose shelf life is longer.

Meat and fish. They suffer from temperature changes, so they should be stored in an efficient fridge or freezer. If you want to take them for several days, and you don't have a large enough fridge or freezer, make an effort to spend a few extra hours in the kitchen and cook the meat and then refrigerate or freeze it cooked. It holds a lot more. Maybe leave it a little behind in the cooking process and then pick it up when you pan-fry it before serving. The same method is valid before setting sail for long voyages or sailing in challenging weather conditions: in fact, it is a good idea to leave with a few dishes already pre-cooked so that you do not have to spend too much time in the kitchen before you have regained your sea legs.
Recover the juices and favour stews with chunks of meat to be simmered or in a pressure cooker (adding a glass of water and one of wine). Vegetables always cooked separately and kept separate. All extra liquids, without the appropriate temperatures, can cause bacterial charges and trigger unwanted fermentation and spoilage processes.
Fish: if you salt it in the oven, it will last several days in the fridge. You make the sauce on the side and when you serve it you combine it with a side dish of vegetables.
Rice and pasta can accompany fish and meat or, let's be Italian, play the starring role in a single dish with a sauce fit for a king. Be careful! If you cook a tomato sauce, before topping it with fish, meat or vegetables, keep a base part for further processing in the following days. Frozen or locked in a Tupperware in the bottom of the fridge, it lasts for a few days, and by doing so you will have carried on for quite a while.
Always bring the sauce or whatever you have stored in the Tupperware back to the boil for a few minutes before serving.

There. I hope I have not bored you, that I have provided you with some interesting insights and that this little vademecum is useful.

Have a good holiday, good wind and good appetite.