Cooking at sea

"Jack Williams is a South Whidbey resident and former cook at Useless Bay Country Club who now cooks at sea. He is sending The Record occasional recipes by e-mail when time and waves allow. He has also written a book, Crossing the Pond, which he hopes to get published soon.People are always asking me, is it easy to cook out here on the boat? I tell them it depends on the weather. On a calm day, cooking any kind of meal is the easiest task in the world, but when the weather kicks up and the seas become violent, cooking at sea turns into the hardest job that I have ever done. Take this past voyage, for example. I was cooking on a 120-foot tugboat. The company that I work for tows barges from the Washington coast to all points west in Alaska.We sailed from Seattle to Seward, Alaska in the middle of January. The first leg of the trip, up through the Inside Passage, was like a pleasure cruise. It was flat calm. I was able to cook and bake anything that my heart desired. The breads were light and fluffy, the cakes were even and moist, and I even made a couple of cheesecakes that didn't fall. When we made the turn out of protected waters into the open ocean at Cape Spenser a large sea swell developed, and my galley and I had to get acclimated to the roll. No problem. All I had to do was tie everything down that was movable and lay extra non-skid matting underneath any loose articles on the table and counters that could slide around. I was still able to bake a loaf of fresh bread, make three desserts, and cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for the crew without too much trouble. One night, when we were about halfway across the Gulf of Alaska, it started to blow and the seas began to build. It was evident to me that it was going to be a bad day when I couldn't stand up long enough to put my pants on that morning. Fifty-knot winds and 20-foot seas was not my idea of a perfect cooking environment. I wedged the bread pan in the oven with some rolled up tin foil and was able to bake a loaf of bread. As for the desserts, cookies and turnovers were an easy way to go. They are rugged and can take a lot of slamming around in the oven. Needless to say I didn't try a custard pie or an angel food cake; I didn't think they would survive the battle and I didn't want them to end up on the oven walls. I hate cleaning an oven, when I am rockin' and rollin' around in a storm. Lunch was Shepherd's Pie: It didn't take a lot of time to prepare and was sturdy enough to ride the storm out without falling apart. Dinner wasn't so easy. I had to put a little more thought into that one. I eventually came up with something easy and light but classy, Chicken Marsala. I served it with fluffy white rice that I cooked in my rice cooker along with steamed fresh broccoli and that got us through this very uncomfortable day and night. In retrospect, the hardest part about cooking in rough seas is that I have to fight for every inch I get. Besides making sure that nothing ends up on the floor or spilled in the oven, it's a constant struggle with Mother Nature to keep from being thrown from one side of the galley to the other. If I am not paying attention to the roll of the boat it is very easy to get tossed hard enough to lose my balance and end up with a bad cut or a severe burn. Needless to say I was very glad when I found out that the front had passed and by the next morning the seas would be coming down and the remainder of the trip to Seward would be smooth and uneventful. We stayed in port for 24 hours and then headed back to Seattle where we unloaded our freight and reloaded for another trip westward.So if you ask me, is it fun cooking at sea? The answer is yes, during those three days in July when it's summertime in Alaska.Chicken Marsala5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts3 chopped garlic cloves1 lb. sliced fresh mushrooms3 cups marsala wineFlour for dusting the chicken1/2 cup olive oilSalt and pepperFirst I season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and set them aside. Then I sauté them in the olive oil over medium high heat until they are golden brown on both sides and done in the middle.I remove them from the pan and toss in the garlic and mushrooms and saute them for a minute or two. Now I add the Marsala wine and bring this to a slow boil. The final step is to add the chicken back into the sauce and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes.I remove the chicken breasts from the pan, place them on the plates and spoon the Marsala sauce over the top of each one, and dinner is ready. Served with white rice or roasted potatoes and a green vegetable, this is always a favorite on the boat in any kind of weather. "

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