Photo by Lisa Masson McAteer

Holiday Entertaining Afloat

There’s nothing better than a holiday evening in a formal dining room with matching bone China, delicately folded linens, crystal and sterling silver sparkling under the flickering candlelight. Dogs beg under the table until the last morsel of pie drops and it’s time to load up the dishwasher. That is Quintessential Holiday.

Wait, maybe there is something better: holiday dining in a boat cabin; a slightly different scenario. Surrounded by a small group of your best friends and family, sitting elbow to elbow around a teak table, laughing, passing a bottle of red wine under an oil lamp, listening to classical music and taking in the aromas from the galley. Yes, that is holiday dining! 

Endive Salad

Your galley oven—Force 10, Eno, Dickenson, etc.—is far more efficient than you might realize. Many boat owners don’t push the limits of these capable gimbaled gadgets, while some don’t use them at all. The holidays are a perfect time to kick your galley into high gear. Think of starting off small with Cornish hens. Beautiful and festive, they can be stuffed with anything you desire, such as oyster stuffing, pomegranate wild rice stuffing, or left unstuffed for quicker roasting. Depending on where the heating element is in your oven, you may need to rotate the birds a few times for even cooking. A festive side salad might be endive, apple and walnut or spinach, pear and gorgonzola. Winter fruits are great additions to holiday salads. For stovetop side dishes, consider sweet potatoes and fennel or braised red cabbage.

While your guests mingle before the holiday feast, a Bay-inspired appetizer to pop in your oven could be “Oysters Rocket Feller” (the classic Rockefeller dish using arugula (rocket) instead of spinach). Or try elegant crab stuffed mushroom caps if the crab season allows. If your meal does not include stuffing in your birds—and everyone loves stuffing—try baking Stuffing Stuffed Biscuits before your entree.

Stuffing Stuffed Biscuits

Once you have conquered small dinners and have gained confidence in your galley oven, your holiday meals will expand exponentially. A small 9- to 11-pound turkey can be easily slow roasted in your oven, with the rack on the lowest shelf. It can be stuffed, requiring a longer roasting time, or spatchcocked (butterflied; backbone cut out, flattened and roasted breast side up) for quicker, more even roasting. Not into white turkey meat? Try oven roasting turkey drumsticks with Bourbon-honey mustard sauce instead. And don’t overlook cooking on the stovetop. A turkey breast, browned and placed in a pressure cooker, with herbs all around, will come out tender and juicy. 

There are other holiday birds to try. A whole roast duck with an orange glaze, requiring a super-hot galley oven preferably with a broiler, is a hit with the duck-loving crowd. As is duck breast in cream sherry with figs, a sophisticated entrée for your “tablecloth” guests. If you can get your hands on small birds such as partridge, chukar or grouse, try this wonderful recipe from Finland, Willow Grouse with Pink Peppercorn Sauce, perfect for winter holidays. The peppercorn sauce is infused with Cognac, rosemary and blue cheese, a favorite of the Fins. This sauce can be used with almost any kind of poultry or meat.

Duck in Cream Sherry with Figs

Trying to make a fish entrée look spectacular for your holiday table? Try salmon en croute, a salmon filet artistically wrapped in puff pastry to resemble a whole fish. It is considered “Wellington” without the beef for your pescetarian guests. 

To step up your cooking game a few notches, introduce the “Roast Beast” to your galley. Yes, a standing rib roast, a gastronomical investment, can actually be prepared in a galley oven. A five-rib roast, about 11 pounds, will easily feed 6 to 8 people. Best cooked in a disposable aluminum roasting pan for a number of convenience reasons, it needs to go into a “hot as you can get” oven for 15 minutes, fat side up, then roast slowly at 350º for 20 minutes per pound until it reaches and internal temperature of 140º for rare; about 4 hours for an 11 lb. roast. This takes more time but less work than preparing…say…lasagna. Add Yorkshire pudding to the fat drippings and your guests will be reciting Charles Dickens before the oil lamp burns out. Other over-the-top classic beef entrees could include Chateaubriand, roasted in a similar fashion to the rib roast, and finished with a savory mushroom sauce.

Chateaubriand, Mushroom Sauce

If any of this sounds inviting to you, delay that winterization until after the holidays (if weather allows, of course) and you will gain a few more weeks of boating enjoyment and some wonderful meals onboard. And be sure your cooking fuel tanks—alcohol, propane, whatever you use—are filled, and there’s an additional tank in reserve. If you live aboard, you’re already in the know and could write your own stories of the holidays! So, this holiday season, venture out of your dining room and take your culinary skills to the galley for a memorable, cozy dining experience.

You can find recipes for most of these holiday delights by searching

Former Creative Director for Chesapeake Bay Magazine, Caroline Foster is a designer and writer living in Annapolis on a sailboat with her husband. She is co-creator of the website Galley PiratesCooking for Cruising and Living Aboard