Think Outside the Can!

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and it prompted this cruising cook to look at canned corned beef in a whole new light.
Corned Beef Burgers
Corned Beef Burgers Lynda Morris Childress

I’ve always had an aversion to canned beef in its characteristic square tins; perhaps it evoked memories of lovingly but unenthusiastically opening cans of pet food. Yet here I sit, currently in Aceh, Indonesia, with 20 cans of Brazilian corned beef carefully stowed away on board. What’s happened to convert this former vegetarian to a person obsessed with canned corned beef?

My husband, Mark, and I, along with our two children, have been cruising for three years. Our boat, Glayva, is a Sayer 42 that Mark and I built on the Sunshine Coast of Australia. Our fitting-out list, like the lists of most sailors, consisted of “The Necessary” and “The Wished For.” Unfortunately, a freezer was—and still is—on the latter.

We’re adventurous eaters who indulge in local foods and markets for fresh items. A trip to the nearest market is always an adventure and, often, an education. At times it’s repelling, as when you can’t see the meat for the flies, making you dream longingly of the gleaming walls of your butcher shop back home. With a lack of fridge space, no freezer, and an aversion to fly-ridden beef, goat, or chicken, I had to find an easy and tasty option. Stranded without fresh meat for months at a time, I had to change my ways or, at the least, alter my recipes, experimenting with ideas gleaned from any recipe requiring ground beef. Slowly and quite unbelievably, my antipathy toward corned beef melted like fat, and new possibilities for preparing long-life foods emerged.


Depending on where you’re provisioning, there are many long-life products available in addition to canned corned beef. Check out markets’ “alternative” sections. Organic aisles may offer such items as quality chickpeas; in international sections, you may find good Arabic falafel mix or freeze-dried Japanese soup packs complete with real shrimp. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Always check the “use by” dates, and keep them in mind while cruising.

Maintaining your stores is important, too, and stowing them in an organized way makes it easy for all aboard to track down those items they need. Using stickers, I label all the shelves and lockers with what’s on or in them, and I give my family a tour of these spaces so they’ll know where everything is.

As for that Brazilian corned beef: It can be used with excellent results in a variety of recipes. Think of everything you can do with ground beef—spaghetti Bolognese, lasagna, beef curry; the list goes on. A can of corned beef is only limited by your ability to open it.


Rockin’ Reuben Burgers

  • 1 12-ounce can corned beef (or cooked corned beef, shredded)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 teaspoon beef-stock powder
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons HP or A-1 sauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • Basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese
  • 4 bulky bread rolls
  • 6 ounces bottled Russian dressing
  • 1 8-ounce can sauerkraut

Combine first eight ingredients and seasonings. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or more to let the flavors blend. Form mix into patties and fry them over medium-low heat in a lightly oiled pan, about 6 minutes per side. After flipping once, top each burger with Swiss cheese and let it melt. Lightly spread both inner halves of a roll with Russian dressing. Add cooked burger. Top with a little more dressing and sauerkraut. You’ll never know this meal came from a can! Serves four.