Wow! I got so much feedback from you guys on my latest culinary challenge, so many page views, that my spirits are buoyed and I’ll soldier on with more tales from the seas. Thank you each and every one!
Once our first group of guests had been with us for just a day I began to hear rumblings among the crew about a beach BBQ. Last year the Princess and her family had requested something similar (only to demand that all of the chicken being served be pre-boiled on the boat to ensure that it was fully cooked before she ate it). Too busy to get on shore myself, the Stewardess and a Deckhand went in to a local butcher to buy pork ribs, chicken and pork kebabs, sausages. While they were scurrying on my behalf I was summoned on deck by the hostess and asked what I planned to prepare them. She lay there wrapped up like a mummy in her plush white bathrobe and towels, nodding as I ran through my list of meats and salads. Then she cut me off. “What about fish?”
When these guests first arrived I was immediately told that one gentleman had a severe allergy to bell peppers and another didn’t eat fish. When I had told them what I had planned for dinner that evening of their arrival (poached salmon with couscous) I was told that the meal would do for that evening (with a portion of steak please) but that she didn’t want the fish-averse guest to feel left out. My mind raced as I thought about all of the fish I had frozen in my stock, all of the delicious recipes I had in my repertoire ready to impress. Alas, in spite of the crystal blue sea all around us and the heat of the day, meat and chicken were to be on the menu.
So when this dear lady brought up fish I was again taken off guard. I told them I had a whole large red snapper (that’s what I ordered in France but this was unlike any red snapper I’d ever seen – another challenge when travelling) that I could put on the grill. Her friend cooed and thought that would be just the perfect addition to our little on shore soiree. “Do you have a lot of aluminium foil in the galley?” he asked. “Yes.” I wasn’t certain of where this was going. “Wonderful! We can stuff the snapper with some coriander (cilantro to you and me), limes and then bake it in a salt crust.” The hostess again interrupted, “I think he would quite like to get involved with the fish.” I wanted to laugh, instead I just smiled and said “Of course.”
Dismissed, I gingerly made my way down the ladder to my galley and yanked the giant frozen “snapper” out of the freezer, praying I had some fresh cilantro hiding somewhere so our guest could get involved. Meanwhile, we did a little sailing and I whipped up a BBQ sauce (something I’ve never in my life done but will absolutely do again as it was so delicious) and some shortcakes. The giant cauldron of thick sauce bubbled and popped on the stove as we hit 18 knots and I struggled to keep my feet under me. I prayed that someone had really really thought through this whole stove/kimball situation, as I saw my life flash before my eyes imagining my feet being consumed by this hot lava should it fall on the floor. My shortcakes didn’t fare too well as they slid to one side of the oven, never to recover their intended shape, looking in the end more like droopy boobs than a dessert, but I just told myself the peaches and cream would disguise them.
Once we arrived at the private lagoon where we’d be dining that evening (picture postcard perfect) I could get down to business. It’s times like this one that I really do feel my midwestern roots are inescapable. We do BBQ food well, eating outdoors well, but there’s also a very firm idea of what makes up a picnic of this sort and somehow I just knew that my vision and my guests’ were not quite the same. The crew were to be eating on shore (but to one side) too and in the end it was for them that I concocted my vision of the Greek Beach BBQ: Asian Slaw, Potato Salad, Watermelon Salad, Ribs, Kabobs, Sausages and that damn fish which was eyeing me from the sink where it was still defrosting.
The mad dash began with the deckhands going on shore to gather firewood (and do some sneaky swimming) while the stewardesses pulled out plastic plates and cups and serving ware from underneath some floor board or another. Cushions had to be cleaned, citronella candles found, coolers of drinks (one for the crew and another for the guests) full of favorite drinks stocked. I just chopped away preparing food for the 12 who would be eating and grateful at the prospect of not being trapped in my little galley for the evening. I went ashore with all of my goodies and arranged them on the blanket. The boat’s captain was in charge of the grill and we started to put all of the meats on it. Meanwhile, that fish still lay untouched in its plastic wrapping – thawed just in time. Since our guest “quite wanted to get involved” I hadn’t touched the thing but had a roll of foil, lots of salt, lime slices and stems of cilantro (it was all I had left).
As the boys played with sea urchins they’d found I tried to organize myself but also take it all in. The view of our boat from shore was spectacular as the sun set and the water was the color you always imagine it will be when you go on vacation. My fears of our different views on outdoor dining were confirmed when the guests arrived and our hostess was carried from the tender to the beach in her purple silk pajamas and her daughter showed up in an embroidered maxi-dress. I approached the fish man and his interest seemed piqued again. “Why, yes, yes. Let’s prepare the fish.” He came over to my rocky kitchen and I pulled the beast out of its packaging on to the foil as he instructed. “Yes, now a few lime slices inside. Just like that. Yes, salt and pepper inside. Oh, you brought the coriander. Good on you. Yes, just like that. Salt all over. Now make sure the foil packet is tightly sealed. How long will it take? About 20 minutes you suppose?”
The fish on the barbie, we all munched on the ribs I had made earlier. It was at about this point that I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to whip the cream for my droopy peach shortcakes – a drizzle of heavy cream was going to have to do. The clanging of my whisk on the side of a metal bowl for a couple of minutes would break the spell. Note to self: brownies and fruit next time. Once the fish was finally done (the salt crust didn’t turn out like he’d envisioned and it took about twice as long on our struggling fire) I went around to each guests with the bowls of salads. Each took about a tablespoon leaving what looked like vats of each dish left over. If I’d been cooking for 12 friends the food would have disappeared in a second, but alas, true to form, these guys didn’t eat much. However, they made room for dessert, cheerfully batting aside my apologies about the lack of whipped cream, joking with me and praising the food. They too seemed a little more laid back as we all sat as equals on the stony beach. The crew dove in and demolished much of the leftover food but before we could get too imbued in the spirit of a beach BBQ the guests were ready to head back to the ship.
With the guests back on board we took out our little pocket flashlights and scanned the scene so we could clean up and several tender trips later we were all back on board, in my tiny galley washing up, stowing away, laughing. While the guests may not have eaten much – although “That thing you did with the watermelon was absolutely delightful!” I enjoyed a break from the three course formality and having the boys in the crew in charge of meat. I’m going to share the BBQ sauce recipe I concocted using a variety of sources because we had plenty left over and it was used as a condiment by the crew for much of the rest of our trip.
4 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup tomato paste
4 cloves of garlic smashed
1 large spanish onion, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup orange juice
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon mustard powder
salt to taste
Heat oil in a large saucepan and add tomato paste, onions and garlic cloves. Stir frequently to cook the tomato paste and lightly brown the onions. Now add all your spices, again stirring often, for about two minutes. Add the remainder of the ingredients and 6 cups of water. Cook stirring occasionally for at least an hour or reduced by half. You can strain out the garlic and onion pieces if you like but I left them in.