By Amy Alton
Transitioning from an average household kitchen to a small (often cramped) galley onboard means changing how you prepare and cook food. The most difficult change for me was my oven. Marine ovens lack many of the features that we become dependent on - such as temperature control - and introduce entirely new difficulties like gimbaling.
But these difficulties are worth overcoming. Nothing boosts crew morale like a loaf of freshly baked Honey Whole Wheat bread days into a long passage. I've thanked many fellow seafarers for their help with projects by delivering homemade cookies. And after seven years of cruising, we know we can't always go home for the holidays, but baking pumpkin pie or an oven roast eases homesickness.
With probably a hundred loaves of bread under my belt, and dozens of roasted meals, here are my five tips to make your galley oven more efficient and useful:
1. Add in a thermometer
Many onboard ovens do not have temperature controls. My oven, an Eno, has a small dial to control the flame size - high or low. However, there is no temperature reading, no thermostat, and no way to set the temperature you want to bake at.
The first step for making your oven more effective is to buy a small thermometer to sit or hang in your oven. It should face the oven window and should be big enough and well positioned so you can read it without opening the oven door. By reading my thermometer, I can turn the dial down and manually regulate the temperature, and thus making my oven more useful than simply "high" or "low".
2. Install a baking stone
An issue that plagues many onboard ovens is hot and cold spots. Most boats have little insulation, including the cabinet our oven sits in. Therefore, ovens lose a lot of heat quickly.
One way to combat heat loss is to install a baking stone in the base of the oven. As the oven warms up, the stone absorbs and holds the heat, dispersing it through the oven more evenly.
My baking stone is actually two ceramic tiles that stay at the bottom of the oven. A home hardware store can custom-cut baking stones to a perfect size, but pre-made tiles also work very well.
3. Circulate air
My onboard oven came with a baking sheet that fits perfectly in the oven's rack, which sounds great in theory. However, this sheet pan blocks air-flow from the bottom, where the heating source is, to the top, where my food is cooking.
Instead of using a sheet pan that takes up the entire cross-section of the oven, I cook my food in smaller receptacles such as a silicone brownie pan or loaf pan and completely leave the sheet pan out, putting the silicone directly on the wire rack. The silicone is non-skid on the rack and doesn't block airflow within the oven.
4. Make use of your preheat and cool-down periods
I frequently put my baking projects in the oven before it is fully at temperature, and leave it in after I turn the oven off. This takes time and practice using your oven to understand how fast it heats and cools, but many foods aren't as delicate as cookbooks might have you think. By shining a light in the oven, I can monitor the food without opening the door. I set a general timer for cookies and put them in the oven immediately when I turn it on. After the timer goes off, I monitor the cookies and cook by the color - a golden brown cookie is a done cookie. Same with roasted vegetables or a loaf of bread.
I may also use the cool-down period to reheat foods. For example, if I'm roasting protein and vegetables but want to serve it with leftover bread or rice, I wrap the bread or rice in aluminum foil and put it in the oven as I turn the oven off. It doesn't require much heat to warm up pre-cooked food.
5. Cook small
Most recipes think nothing of letting the oven run for longer than it needs to. But to save propane and time, carefully consider where recipes might sacrifice convenience for time.
One such place is the size of the items you are baking. A recipe might call for roasting a halved butternut squash. Depending on the recipe, though, it might make more sense to dice the butternut squash first. Roasting diced vegetables takes less time and propane than roasting whole vegetables.
This is the same with baking bread. Do you really need a loaf of bread, or would you be just as happy shaping the dough into rolls and baking it in less time?
Practice, practice, practice
It may be hard to get the hang of your oven at first, but keep at it! After all, there is no place to buy a loaf of sandwich bread in the middle of the ocean. With practice and time to learn how your particular oven works, you too can be comfortably baking onboard your boat.
Circumnavigator, sailor, and writer. Amy has been living aboard her boat for seven years eating healthy and exercising in all corners of the world. She's experienced the mental and physical highs and lows of cruising, the disasters, and the joy, and shares them through her writing. She and her husband live on their catamaran, Starry Horizons, and are spending the season in the Bahamas.
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