Favorite Cookbooks

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2010 • all rights reserved

Great Cookbooks

Space is always at a premium aboard a boat, and thus the number of books aboard is limited.  At the same time, most cruisers have access to fewer prepared foods when on the water, and have an even greater need for cookbooks to prepare meals from scratch, substitute for unobtainable ingredients and store food differently than in a shore kitchen.  Below are my considerations in deciding what cookbooks to take aboard, and a listing of my favorites.

UPDATE:  The Boat Galley Cookbook is now available and it is designed to be the one comprehensive cookbook needed aboard any boat.  Admittedly, I’m prejudiced, but I think it completely fills the role of a basic reference cookbook and a galley reference.  It also has extensive information on grilling, seafood, and bread, so you don’t need extra books for those, either.  Read more about it, buy it on Amazon (US) or check out the full list of places to get it in over 90 countries around the world.  It’s also available worldwide for Kindle and in the US iTunes store.

1.  Basic Reference Cookbook. Every boat needs a basic reference cookbook on board for questions like how do I make spaghetti sauce? how long do I cook a turkey breast? how can I make my own BBQ sauce?

I’ll be honest, I never found the “perfect” basic cookbook for use on a boat, as those designed to be used in a shore-based kitchen assumed that one had unlimited electricity, a variety of appliances and more space than any boat galley — and that’s one reason why I decided to write The Boat Galley Cookbook.

All that said, my second-favorite reference cookbook is the old standby (I used the 1985 edition):

Joy is big and heavy, but it contains a wealth of information.

2.  Galley Reference Cookbook. I also wanted a book that dealt with some of the unique challenges that a boat galley presents:  storing food for longer times, preventing food spoilage from the motion of the boat, limited counter space, limited (and top-loading) refrigerator and freezer space, cooking when the boat is moving, and cooking without prepared foods.

I never found one book that answered all my questions.  My favorite two that both cover a number of these issues are:

3.  Seafood Cookbook. I grew up in the midwest, and my dad wasn’t a fisherman.  When we left to go cruising, neither Dave nor I knew the first thing about preparing live seafood, filleting fish or cooking it.  But we knew we liked seafood and hoped to eat a bunch.  I decided that I needed a basic seafood cookbook, something that could teach me how to clean and cook anything.

The book that I initially took with me had great recipes, but didn’t really teach me the basics.  I had no clue what to do when a friend handed me a bag of clams.  And when a local fisherman sold us a fish, we negotiated for him to fillet it.  Bit by bit, we learned.  Had we had either of these recommended books, our learning curve would have been much shorter.  They both give detailed information on preparing fish and shellfish, then proceed to give detailed directions for cooking it deliciously.

If you’re planning to catch your own, a fish identification guide that lists edibility is a big plus.  The one that we used for the Sea of Cortez and Pacific coast of Mexico and Central America was spot on with its assessments:

4.  Grilling Cookbook. We found that we grilled far more aboard than we had when living ashore.  In hot weather, it kept heat out of the boat and we just loved sitting in the cockpit, fixing dinner and watching the scenery and wildlife.

But since we hadn’t grilled all that much ashore, we frequently didn’t know what we were doing and had to learn by trial and error.

I wish I’d had this book then.  It redefines “basic grilling book” by teaching you how to grill everything imaginable and with a variety of techniques.  With 150 recipes and nearly 1,000 photos this book will make you an expert:

5.  Bread Cookbook. I’ve baked bread all my life and love it.  But it’s surprising how many cruisers pick it up once they’re out cruising and have the time (and in the tropics, bread rises quickly).  When you’re away from stores and bakeries, it’s great to be able to bake a variety of breads, muffins, and biscuits.

My favorite bread cookbook, handed down to me from my mom, has detailed directions and a comprehensive collection of recipes.  It’s still available used and is still highly reviewed:

I realize that not everyone wants to knead bread, although almost everyone loves fresh bread.  The whole trend of no-knead breads started several years ago with a recipe in The New York Times.  All I can say is WOW!

Great taste, great texture, simple and no mess.  Anyone who likes homemade bread should try this method.  And this cookbook makes it even simpler, with easy-to-follow directions and lots of variations:

6. Pressure Cooking. If you plan to use a pressure cooker on board, you really need a cookbook devoted to the topic.  I made the mistake of thinking that the little booklet that came with the pressure cooker would give me all the information I needed.  It didn’t.

My recommended book not only explains using pressure cookers in detail, it also gives tips and comments along the way for things that are specific to pressure cookers — and the recipes are great and allow flexibility for what ingredients are available:

7.  Food You Love. What cookbook do you find yourself turning to time after time for food you love to eat?  Your tastes aren’t going to change just because you’re on a boat — take along a family favorite or two.

For Dave and I, it was a collection of Cajun recipes and I highly recommend this cookbook to anyone who loves jambalaya, gumbo and all the other great tastes of New Orleans:

8.  Family Favorites. I went through my recipe file and pulled about 40 recipes that I knew I didn’t want to be without.  I typed them up, getting about 6 per page, then printed the pages out.  I then had the sheets laminated back-to-back so they’d last longer, and took them along.  It worked perfectly!  There are numerous other ways of taking family favorite recipes along electronically — get more ideas here.

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  1. Re: Family Favorites

    Type up all your recipes in a Word document. Organize it however you like..whatever makes sense to you. You can then save it as a PDF file, and use it on your eReader (Kindle, Sony, Nook, etc) or directly on your computer.

    I have accquired 100’s of cookbooks on the internet, in PDF format, or have converted to PDF. I have them saved on a CD, and now have a huge library of cookbooks (I used to collect paper books, but now, as I divest myself of my worldly goods in anticipation of beginning a life living aboard, they were something that just had to go)

    Whether on a reading device, or on your computer, you can have an unlimited number of cookbooks for no space!

  2. Carolyn Shearlock says:

    A reader named Margaret sent me the following e-mail:

    For me, the Cruising Chef Cookbook by Michael Greenwald fills most of my cookbook needs on board our 36-ft. catamaran. It has all the basics like Joy of Cooking, plus special techniques for cooking in a galley, catching, cleaning and cooking fish, using a pressure cooker on board, and making bread, all made more interesting by the author’s personal experiences as a cruising chef. I have gotten rid of most of my other cookbooks, but couldn’t live without this one.

    Can’t wait for your new book to be published. I’m saving a special place on board for it.

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Thanks Margaret for another recommendation. I had a copy of Cruising Chef aboard Que Tal, and while I liked it, it somehow never develop into my “go-to” cookbook that the others did. But I know plenty of cruisers who swear by it!

  3. Margaret McGovern on Facebook says:

    For me, The Cruising Chef by Michael Greenwald fulfills all those categories…basic reference, seafood, grilling, bread, etc.

  4. Leslie LaBute says:

    The books I have on board include the Perfect Galley Cookbook by Diane Taylor, the Cruising Chef by Michael Greenwald and The Best of People & Food edited by Barbara Davis and Seven Seas Press. This book contains recipes from Cruising World Magazine. The cookbook was last published in 1983. It also contains recipes from Diane Taylor as mentioned above. As a lover of cookbooks I pick these up often just to read when I have run out of material to read on the boat. We recently downsized our home and I gave about 200 cookbooks to a charity for a book sale. I am really looking forward to your book and have recommended it to fellow cruisers!

  5. yay! just added them to my wedding registry!

  6. I’m a big Joy of Cooking fan and love Cruisin’ Cuisine! Thanks.

  7. Gloria Rooney says:

    Joy of Cooking is my go to for reference — I can always vary from what is there, but it is good basic stuff over everyfood category imaginable. I have the electronic version, but really haven’t used it as much as the two well worn copies I own – 1 at home and 1 on the boat. Looking forward to your book!


  8. You??? Never!!! 😉

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