Spice Up Your Galley

Create a boat Flavor File to suit your tastes for gourmet meals anywhere in the world. "People and Food" for our April 2010 issue
Bay leaves, garam masala and poppy seeds Susanna Sharp

Before shoving off from Oregon three years ago aboard Bluewater, our 36-foot steel cutter, with my husband, Michael, and our dog, Nisa, I stood in my kitchen and admired my spice collection. Herbs and spices rich in color and texture filled rows of sparkling glass jars-a beautiful, organized, and alphabetized assemblage.

I faced the terrible task of condensing my collection to suit the galley of our boat. As sailors who also happen to be foodies, we understood that it simply wouldn’t do to cruise without spices. So I developed the “Flavor File,” a waterproof, compact, portable, and complete system that fits perfectly into the locker under our galley sink. Currently, it contains small stockpiles of 51 flavors, from A for allspice to W for white pepper. If we move ashore for a season, we simply take it with us.

You’ll need a lidded plastic storage container; clear, food-grade, four- by seven-inch resealable plastic bags; rigid, acid-free card stock; a food-safe marker; and plastic or cardboard sheets to serve as row dividers. Start by determining the best bin size to fit your galley space. I use a green, three-gallon Rubbermaid Roughneck Tote. The length of this box allows for three rows of flavors and two rigid cardboard dividers. It’s the perfect size if you wish to carry 25 or more flavors.


The bags require inserts for easier filing. I cut several standard file folders into long triangles; full-size inserts create more bulk and limit the bag’s ability to expand. Inserts serve three uses: They give rigidity to the bags so they stand upright in the file, provide a place for labeling the contents, and make it simpler to measure and pour from the bag.

Clearly and boldly print the flavor name across the top of each insert. Add to each bag the labeled insert and the corresponding contents. Fill each bag no more than halfway. Squeeze out any air, then zip it shut. File the bags alphabetically, using dividers as needed for multiple rows.

Your own Flavor File will suffice for most of your inventory. Each bag more than holds a standard jar’s worth of spice. However, some recipe favorites require large quantities of a certain flavor. In these cases, you’ll quickly empty a bag. Instead, consider larger refillable plastic containers for those items. We use our old camping squeeze tubes, available at outdoor stores, but dozens of options exist for this purpose.


Cruisers know that nothing compares to actual time aboard your boat, living in and using the space, to determine the best home for every item. In the end, you may end up with a dedicated locker for your complete collection of flavors. The entire space under our galley sink houses ours, including the Flavor File, a few squeeze tubes, and many assorted vinegars, oils, extracts, and condiments.

A final thing to keep in mind is refreshing and restocking your box. Herbs and spices over time tend to lose flavor and potency. Selectively replace your stock rather than mixing new with old. When given an opportunity to visit a bulk herb-and-spice provider, consider taking the entire box with you to replenish your inventory. Note the flavors you never use aboard and eliminate them. Enrich your collection with new, local flavors from your travels. Allow your own Flavor File to become a box of the memories you make under way.

Here’s one of Susanna Sharp’s favorite recipes using spices from her boat’s Flavor File.


Salmon Spice Rub

Combine 1 teaspoon each of chili powder, curry powder, coriander, cumin, mustard powder, salt, and sugar.

Sprinkle 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons over each oil-brushed salmon fillet before cooking. Delicious!