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3rd-6th October 2014
That'll Dufour Me
Just Another Ruined Castle

A Dufour 425 optimistically named Pollyanna to be precise.

We, or rather Peter Mackie's and Sam Peckers, organised her charter out of Dunstaffnage and through the Sound of Mull for a nice long weekend of cooking, eating and sailing for six of us.
Thanks guys!

As the designated ship's cook on our four-day, three-dinners-with-two-on-board voyage I paid particular attention to my universal rules for successful Cooking On Boats while developing our menu. Even the rules I broke.

The Sea Is Not To Be Trusted
As any sailing fule know, the sea is a treacherous mistress so it pays to avoid as much onboard food preparation as possible by doing it all ashore.
Thus our first meal aboard consisted of my own interpretation of a seafood chowder prepared at home and sealed into my large stock pot with Sellotape. Or sticky backed plastic as it is inelegantly known to a generation of Blue Peter viewers. Don't forget to remove the Sellotape before reheating!
For dessert I also pre-made a baking-tin-load of individual sticky toffee puddings that only required reheating in the oven. The main difficulty they presented having successfully driven them across the country, was transporting them intact aboard the boat. There was a definite point on the pontoon when I was seriously afraid the whole tray was about to blow out of my hands, to the great amusement of the rest of our heartless crew. A situation not improved by my careful fashioning of a cling film aerofoil covering.

I must admit to defying another cardinal cooking rule by accompanying the chowder (rather well, I thought) with an oven-baked loaf of soda bread:
The Oven Is Not To Be Trusted
A boat's oven is useful for keeping things warm (like breakfast - ladies!), reheating sausage rolls or pastries or possibly cooking things securely wrapped in tin foil but don't even think about using it to roast a dinner. The temperature, heat distribution, and vagaries of the gas supply are eager to ruin anything even slightly sensitive.
Fortunately soda bread is quite forgiving of temperature and rises with the activation of its bicarbonate of soda content more reliably than do fickle yeast cells. I also reheated my sticky toffee puddings in the oven, but reheating is specifically allowed, so that's alright then.

Meal number two needed to actually be prepared on the boat, so I followed the best practice:
Treat It Tidily Stupid
Organise your dishes so that everything cooks sequentially going into pots, pans or the oven as you prepare the ingredients - so choose recipes wisely. This avoids the disaster of an unexpected tack (unexpected to the cook, obviously everyone on deck knows perfectly well what is going on, but to them you slave in an invisible magic kitchen) dumping all your bowls of lovingly prepared components into the bilges. The best way to arrange this is to have one large pot for browning/crisping/frying and a large warming dish securely lodged in the sink. Cook each batch of ingredients as soon as they are prepared in this pot, then decant to the warming dish when done, freeing the pot for the next batch. Return everything from the warming dish to the pot at the end for their final simmering/stewing/burning.
Beef Bourguignon lends itself perfectly to this kind of single pot preparation - I served it with mashed potatoes which I first baked in the oven (which makes for richer, tastier mash and avoids the need for another giant pot of boiling water rolling around the galley).
And some green beans which I cooked in a giant pot of boiling water.

Handily both meals also followed an essential rule for shipboard harmony:
All Meals Must Contain Bacon
A generous supply of bacon in their diet acts much like Valium on the crew mood. Lack of bacon can lead to unrest and even mutiny.
Actually this is rather more of a personal rule, perhaps not quite so applicable to vegetarian voyages. Perhaps.

Absolutely NO Flambéing on board in the Skipper's Presence
On reflection, the proximity of that porthole's curtains should have argued against having flaming rum bananas with butterscotch sauce for dessert. Fortunately the sauce was very well received and the skipper didn't notice a thing.

Always Have a Backup
Not just a good rule for cooking - it's a good rule for all of your sailing. Maybe a good rule for life!
Since The Sea Is Not To Be Trusted it's a good idea to have at least one backup meal in case you run aground, or get blown out to sea. I chose a pasta with smoked salmon and cream cheese dish, all the constituents of which keep reasonably well. Of course, when it proved surplus to requirements, as the designated chef I was able to take the ingredients home and try the dish out for myself. It would have been delicious!

My favourite non-cookery related bit of the sail was helming Pollyanna between Lady's Rock and Lismore island in an unreliable easterly wind against a stiff tide running Northwards. A much stiffer tide than any of us had managed to predict from the tidal atlases aboard.
As I admired the astonishing disagreement between the chart plotter's Heading and COG tracks I gave some thought to how often I'd been in the position of having to pick the best course through a narrow channel or entry, and what would be a better strategy than just aiming for the middle and hoping for the best. It occurred to me that navigating to avoid the worst-case outcomes might be a smarter plan. In this case the place I definitely didn't want to end up would be being forced to tack mid-way through the gap and risk losing way while being swept energetically towards Robert Stevenson's lighthouse on Eilean Musdile!
Accordingly I made sure to hold the passing tack until I was almost on the skerry before bearing away - much to Scot's consternation.
Hopefully no-one else noticed our anxiety!

Other things I learned on this trip:
  1. Don't attempt to berth sideways onto the end of a narrow pier lest you crush your less agile crewpersons - approach sternwards.
  2. Don't let women cook your breakfast or you'll be waiting for it one bacon rasher at a time.
    Later you might get an egg.


Karl's Clam Chowder
Fish soup
main soup fish nautical
Or at least, a clam* chowder concept. Funny - ever since that Simpson's episode I only hear chowDAH, chowDAH!

There's a bit of a story behind this chowDAH as it happens - see it all started with a visit to Rosy Ogden's Dad John's fabulous Temple to Seafood in Oban. His chowder was simply exquisite, and ever since I've been trying to prise its secrets from first John, and then Rosy. All to no avail.

So when I promised a seafood meal for Rachel's prize-winning girly 707 team, one of whom being that very same Rosy, I immediately thought of presenting my own competing chowder. Just to show them I don't need their stinking secret recipes. So I set about developing one.
There are as many American clam chowders as there are states, or even kitchens, so there's plenty of inspiration to choose from. Most of them are thickened, or at least decorated, with crackers, some with potatoes, most are made with milk or cream (New England) some heretically with tomatoes (Manhattan) and even combinations of the two (Long Island).

Many thanks to the inspiring amount of research put into the making of a real New England Clam Chowder by The Food Lab. It has to be said, though, that their clams look a whole lot more edible than the ones that came out of my fishmonger's shells. Perhaps that's what you get from American tins?

Anyway, I decided to go with a uniquely Greek twist on the New England style - flavouring the milky soup with Ouzo and thickening it with beans.

Unfortunately, due to the impossibility of getting 4 girls and their partners to schedule a single free evening this side of the apocalypse the dinner never materialised, but I decided to parlay the chowder into one of the meals for this Charter holiday.
So without further ado, on with the process...
* May not contain clams

Serves a boat

Ingredients
Method
This is still more of a plan than a completed recipe, but for what it's worth here goes:

Soak the beans overnight, then simmer until very soft in fish stock. Make sure you have some bay leaves, and possibly fennel flavours in the stock? Strain, retaining the stock, then purée and pass through a sieve.

If using clams, steam gently in a little liquor of choice until they open, strain the liquid through muslin and set aside, remove the clam flesh.

If using scallops, simmer them gently in a huge amount of butter until they colour slightly - set aside.
If using lobster, cook, then cut in half, crack open the claws, extract the meat and cut into decent pieces. If there's any tomalley or roe in the lobster mash it up with butter and set aside.

Dice the salt pork or bacon and fry gently in butter until golden but not browned, set aside.
Add the finely chopped onions and celery and fry until glassy.
De-glaze with the liquor, add the reserved fish, bean, and clam stock and some milk. Purée about half the solids, then add back together with the bacon and the bean puré.
If you are adding fish put this in now, simmer until softened then remove and break into bite-sized pieces.
Add the clams if using and continue to simmer.
Stir in the cream, the tomalley and roe paste if there was any, add the lobster, scallops, fish pieces and warm through.

Dress with lemon doubtful, coriander definitely, or any other likely herbs nope!, spoon over some bacon foam and serve.
Sounds yum right? Must try it!

Round One
OK, so here are my quantities:
  • No clams - monkfish cheeks, a piece of hake, scallops
  • 75ml Ricard
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup cream
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 3-4 shallots
  • ½ cup dried butter beans
  • maybe 1pt fish stock - about 1 cup to lubricate the beans and 1 cup into the soup
And here's what I learned:
  1. Don't use prawn-heads to make your stock - it colours it pink which spoils the nice white effect you're going for
  2. Don't use old prawn-head out of the freezer that smell slightly funky to make your stock
  3. You can use more Ricard
  4. Add parsley and cook it before serving, but add a touch of coriander at the end - it gives the soup a nice lift
  5. Lemon juice doesn't really work
  6. I think it will be better to cut the vegetables reasonably chunky - I don't like all the fiddly little bits
  7. Mince the parsley
  8. You don't want the scallops too raw - though they make a pretty picture pan-fried and sitting on top of the soup, (see pretty picture) they're probably taste better simmered for a while in the creamy chowder.
  9. Don't overcook the the scallops either - so you probably just want to stir them through then serve. That would probably go for clams too if I'd had some.
  10. I don't think Monkfish is suitable for this soup
  11. Bacon-flavoured half-milk half-water with Lecithin doesn't foam worth a damn
On the whole, apart from the slightly stale freezer taste of the stock, the chowder needed to be both creamier and more intensely fish-flavoured (skip the milk, reduce the stock harder?). On the plus side, I think the beans (I used butter beans) are going to work as a thickening agent (don't forget to purée half the onion/celery too), the Ricard was alright, and I liked parsley (cooked for a little) with a hint of coriander as the finish. I might think about slicing the celery thinner and cooking for longer, and perhaps not frying the onions so much? I'm not sure how to get a warm milk or cream sauce to foam. I added 1g Lecithin to 200ml to stabilise the foam. (1tsp Lecithin grains is about 3g) Maybe I just needed more cream. As far as I can tell though Lecithin works best with thin (watery) sauces. Not sure it will work with cream. Maybe egg yolk (probably not the texture I'm going for), or do I need Transglutimase to stabilise gelatine in the foam instead? Or I've seen a suggestion for agar(1%) with xanthan gum (0.2%) to stabilise the cream/milk foram. I think some experimention is required. (Hot) Isi tests I could try:
  • water & Lecithin
  • just milk
  • water & milk
  • water & cream
  • water & milk/cream & Lecithin
Alternatively, forget the cream and go with a stock-based Lecithin foam. Possible with plenty of added bacon fat? I'm not sure this will work in the Isi though - which is what I'm going for.
Consider a sprinkling of dried coral?


Round Two
For round two I spent a fortune on real-life Manila clams, which I used to make up my stock (flavoured with fennel) and to put in the soup.
For the stock I had:
  • 3lb/1.4kg Manila clams
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 1 onion
  • ½ fennel root
  • butter
  • herbs - bay leaves, thyme
  • 1 fl oz Ouzo
Roughly chop the onion, fennel and celery and sweat gently with any herbs you fancy in a little butter in a large pan until glassy. Add 1 fl oz Ouzo, then toss in the clams (I used Manila) cover tightly and steam, vigorously shaking occasionally, until they've all opened or for no longer than 8 minutes.
Have a bowl of iced water standing by.
Peek in occasionally and as the clams open, hoik them out, scoop out the flash using a teaspoon or oyster knife and drop into the iced water. Discard any clams which do not open after the 8 minutes.
When done, give the cooled clam bodies a good swirl to remove any grit, strain the clam water back into the pan and return the shells and any vegetables. Cut any larger or stringy bits of clam into ½ pieces and set aside.
Simmer the stock for 30 minutes or so, then strain thoroughly through several layers of muslin to remove any grit (there will be grit!).
Or you could do the same thing using mussels.
When I made this round I deliberately kept back most of the clam stock (I had plenty) for Round Three.

Now onto the actual soup:
  • 5 oz butter beans
  • ½lb salt pork, cut into 1cm chunks
  • 3 banana shallots, quartered, cut into 1cm pieces
  • 2 sticks celery, cut into 1 cm pieces
  • the other ½ of the fennel
  • butter and olive oil
  • half a dozen scallops
Soak the beans overnight (I added some bicarbonate of soda to help soften them since they seemed to want to deform and wrinkle up). Pop their skins off, or at least from the ones you plan on puréeing it's much more difficult to do this after cooking, drain then simmer in enough of the clam stock to cover until they soften - up to an hour.

Take a slice of the salt pork, fry it up and taste it to determine its saltiness. If it's too salty, then wash the pork, soak it, or blanche it as necessary to achieve the desired salt level.
Chop the pork and vegetables into 1cm chunks. Gently fry the pork in a little butter and olive oil until it begins to collapse and sweat. You can let it take on some colour but don't allow it to brown the pot - it will turn the final soup yellow.
Add the onion and celery fennel later, and sweat gently without browning until translucent. Deglaze with about 2 fl oz Ouzo, cover with clam stock and milk (say 50/50), and simmer gently until the vegetables are soft.
Traditionally you would add cubed potatoes here too.
Make up some beurre monté by whisking a quarter pound (or so) of butter into a couple of tablespoons of simmering water, then use this to poach the scallops.

Blend about half the peeled, cooked beans with a little cooking liquid to a smooth paste and add to the soup to thicken. Add the reserved, cleaned clams, cooked scallops and remaining cooked beans to the chowder. Reheat gently, stir through a drizzle of double cream, adjust the seasoning and Ouzo flavouring and serve dressed with fresh coriander.
My thoughts on Round Two:
I wasn't entirely happy with the amount of breakup from my peeled butter beans so I also boiled up some cannellini and some flageolet beans (couldn't find haricot, and I'm not sure what the difference between haricot and cannellini is anyway, if there even is one) to get a feel for which might work better in the chowder.
I thought the flageolet had too intense a flavour, and the cannellini was a bit smaller than I wanted, particularly after skinning. The skin just gave the bean a bit too much pop for the soup.
So butter beans it will be.

I experimented with a few different herbs for flavouring - parsley, dill and coriander.
Coriander was the absolute winner here, even cooked-in parsley clashed with the chowder flavour (despite the fact that it's the New England Clam Chowder's herb of choice), and dill most definitely doesn't work.

I also wasn't happy with the beurre monté-poached scallops; they were a bit tasteless to be honest. I think cooking them in pure (or clarified) butter works better.
Oh, and don't cut the scallops too small. It's best just to halve the larger ones horizontally, so you still have a generous cross-section.

Clams are rubbish actually, even the good ones. They're rubbery and too, well, clammy! And Manilas are the good ones.
I think I'd rather use less of them and more other seafood. Which does present a problem, because you still really do need plenty to make a decent amount of stock and it would seem ridiculous to just throw them away. I think the solution will be to use much cheaper mussels to get the stock (and throw those away!) and just a few clams for the chowder.

Oh, incidentally - the chowder goes really nicely with mushroom-sauerkraut perogi. Thanks cute polish landlady! Which immediately gives you ideas for an interesting ravioli addition, right?


Round Three
Here we go - the West Coast Charter production version:
  • 1 litre clam stock from Round Two
  • milk
  • 12 Manila (or Palourde) clams, frozen ones are fine other varieties are available, but my fishmonger advises against Amande for being made of rubber
  • 5 oz butter beans
  • ½lb salt pork, cut into 1cm chunks
  • 3 banana shallots, quartered, cut into 1cm pieces
  • 2 sticks celery, cut into 1 cm pieces
  • ½ fennel
  • butter and olive oil
  • half a dozen scallops
  • ½lb cod or other white fish
  • 1 small lobster
Soak the beans overnight.
Pop their skins off, or at least from the ones you plan on puréeing, drain then simmer in enough of the clam stock to cover until they soften (but don't break apart) - up to an hour.
Set aside.

Steam the clams in a little water or stock, occasionally shaking vigorously until they open, or for 8 minutes at most.
Have a bowl of iced water standing by.
Peek in occasionally and as the clams open, hoik them out, scoop out the flash using a teaspoon or oyster knife and drop into the iced water. Discard any clams which do not open after the 8 minutes.
When done, give the cooled clam bodies a good swirl to remove any grit, and remove. Set aside. Add the water and shells back to the pan, then strain the juices into the stock you will use to make the chowder.

Heat a generous amount of clarified if you like butter in a deep narrow pot and fry the scallops with their coral until they turn milky all the way through and begin to take on a little colour. Cut any large ones across horizontally. Set aside.

Cut the cod into reasonable chunks, about 1" or so. Set aside.

Chop the pork and vegetables into 1cm chunks, making the fennel perhaps a little smaller. Gently fry the pork in a little butter and olive oil until it begins to collapse and sweat. You can let it take on some colour but don't allow it to brown the pot - it will turn the final soup yellow.
Add the onion, then fennel, then celery, and sweat gently without browning until translucent. Deglaze with about 2 fl oz Ouzo, cover with clam stock and milk (say 50/50), and simmer gently until the vegetables are soft.

If, like me, you accidentally boiled the soup you will now have a very curdled-looking broken liquid, so strain this into a bowl, retaining the solids.
Put about half your cooked, peeled beans (keep the nicest-looking ones whole for the chowder) in a blender, add a little of the milky stock and purée to a smooth paste you'll need to sieve this if you don't remove the skins. Then add the rest of the liquid, in batches if necessary, and blend until it becomes smooth again.

Return the now repaired liquid, the reserved vegetables and clams, cooked whole beans, fried scallops, and raw fish to the pan and reheat gently without boiling. Stir in some cream, season to taste, adjust the level of Ouzo, dress with roughly torn coriander leaves and serve.
Quite excellent. The blending even successfully rescued my over-boiled soup.
You may have noticed, though, that I failed to add any lobster.
I'd frozen the lobster the night before intending to cut it open and add cubes of the tail to the soup at the end, but completely forgot.
Must try that next time!

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