October 25, 2009

Gastronavigation week

The latest issue of the Walnut Street Gazeout (should be Gazette) poses a question of interest to all amateur sailors. The question comes from Titus Aduxass, who, like several of his fellow inmates, is planning to acquire (hem, hem) an ocean-going sailboat and set off for Tahiti as soon as he gets out of prison.

In a letter to the editor of the Gazeout he asks: “What stuff can you cook under way in a moderate-to-rough sea?”

Well, that inspired me to devote all three columns this week to the gentle art of gastronavigation, about which I know practically nothing. But I pride myself on the fact that knowing nothing about something has never stopped me writing about it.

Thus we plunge boldly into Gastronavigation I, featuring one of my all-time favorite recipes, one that you can prepare in heavy weather with a minimum of effort on one of those little gimbaled single-burner stoves hanging from a bulkhead.

This recipe originated with Commander E. G. Martin, winner of the first Fastnet Race in 1925 with Jolie Brise, a 56-foot converted pilot cutter built of wood in Le Havre, France, in 1913.


Place four medium-large onions, peeled and cut into quarters, into a covered saucepan with 3 to 4 cups of cold water.

Add 2 tablespoons Bovril (or other strong beef stock), 4 ounces butter, a dessert-spoonful Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, a little black pepper, and (when the cooking is nearly done) a small glass of sherry or rather more white wine.

Boil gently for 30 minutes or until the onions have fallen to pieces and are soft, stirring occasionally.

Okay, now for the translation. Bovril. What the heck is Bovril? Well, it seems to be the distilled essence of British cows. It’s black and bitter and it’s still available at my local supermarket. But I don’t use Bovril. I use enough beef stock cubes to make 4 or 5 cups of bouillon.

And 4 ounces of butter? Just reading about it is enough to clog your arteries and give you a heart attack. On land, I use only 2 ounces of butter. It still tastes delicious. But at sea, when a hungry crew needs lots of quick fuel to burn up, give them a full 4 ounces. They’ll love you for it.

Incidentally, Jolie Brise went on to win another two Fastnets, and is still sailing and racing today at the age of 96. Last year she was first in class and first in fleet in the Tall Ships Race from Liverpool, U.K., to Maloy, Norway.

Coming on Wednesday: A West Coast recipe. How to turn a fresh-caught salmon into delicious gravlox.

Today’s Thought
I want a dish to taste good, rather than to have been seethed in pig’s milk and served wrapped in a rhubarb leaf with grated thistle root.
— Kingsley Amis

“Waiter! Take your thumb off that steak.”
“Very well, sir, but if it falls on the floor again it’s your fault.”

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