January 23, 2015

Real food for real sailors

LAST NIGHT we had one of my favorite meals, Jolie Brise soup. It’s a seagoing soup, of course, named after the world-famous, wooden, gaff-rigged pilot cutter that, even in its dotage, is still a force to be reckoned with. In 2011 she was first in class and overall winner of the Tall Ships Race — and not for the first time.

Jolie Brise started life in France in 1913, as a working pilot cutter in Le Havre, but she was bought for private use in 1923 by an Englishman, Commander E. G. Martin. He sailed her to a win in  the first Fastnet Race in 1925 and became famous for more ocean-going exploits in other yachts in later years.

Commander Martin sailed with a hefty, hardworking crew in Jolie Brise and they brought with them some hefty appetites, so it’s not surprising that one of his favorite meals was onion soup. It’s just what a hungry crew needs on a brisk night at sea, hot, tasty, and chock-full of energy. It’s quick and easy to prepare and handy because onions keep well on a boat.

You should try it sometime. Here’s the original recipe from Commander Martin:

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

Add 2 tablespoons Bovril (or other strong beef stock), 4 ounces butter, a dessertspoonful 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.

Now, you might be a little taken aback at the amount of butter in this recipe, but you must remember that it was meant to satisfy the energy needs of hardworking men in a cold climate. And anything with that much butter in it is bound to be delicious. But now I cut the butter ration in half, to 2 ounces, and still find it very tasty and satisfying. I tried a vegetable spread substitute once and it was a disaster. Stick to butter.

We can find Bovril occasionally in the British section of our local supermarket, but I more often use beef stock cubes instead — enough to make 5 cups of bouillon.

So give it a go, and save some of that sherry or white wine for a small toast to a real sailor and a wonderful boat: Commander Martin and Jolie Brise!

Today’s Thought

Onion soup sustains. The process of making it is somewhat like the process of learning to love. It requires commitment, extraordinary effort, time, and will make you cry.

— Ronni Lundy, “The Seasoned Cook,” Esquire, Mar 84


Notice on a thermostat in a hotel room in Kobe, Japan:
“You do not have to get yourself hot in this room. Please control yourself.”


Anonymous said...

Dear John,

Seriously, I love your blog and value your writings. Thanks for your informed wisdoms and your endless humour.

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

Add 2 tablespoons Bovril

Question: how the hell can I get 2 tablespoons of Bovril into a covered saucepan?

Yours in antici.......pation,

Paul McNutt

SY Gandalf, somewhere on the Baltic

Anonymous said...

The time has come to make a small comment. I've been reading your blog for at least a year if not more. I truly enjoy your work and I have contributed gladly to your vast fortune by way of book purchases. I won't be sailing again for a few years, so your blog helps me stay in a sailboat state of mind. I miss my Commander. Thanks sincerely for the effort.

John Vigor said...

Hi Paul:

It took me quite a while to figure it out, but sailors are a resourceful lot. I eventually sneaked the Bovril in with the quartered onions, which also have to be placed in a covered saucepan.

Actually, you can blame it on Commander Graham. Those were his words, not mine.


John V,

Unknown said...

Ohhhhhh Surely we can do better John. An handfull of lentils and some tomato paste please! Love the blog. Love the books. My old Atkins "Thistle " scored well on your seaworthiness scale.

John Vigor said...

Sounds good, Pete, but it's the commander's recipe, not mine. I'm no cook, and it is the stark simplicity of Jolie Brise onion soup that fascinated me.

Bon appetite!

John V.

John Vigor said...

I meant appetite, of course.

John V.

John Vigor said...

Sorry, but automatic spellcheck won't let me write the French word for appetite!

John V.