A big complaint about cooking on a small sailboat in the tropics is how hot the galley gets. Sure you can bake on the stove top, use a pressure cooker to cut down on cooking times and barbeque almost everything but sometimes that is just not enough.
Whenever possible Steve and I like to make a fire and cook on the beach. We’ve made popcorn, roti, hotdogs, roasted whole chickens, baked loaves of bread, cooked sausages, steaks and fresh caught fish. We’ve even made desserts over a hot coals; nothing beats eating caramelized bananas with chocolate while watching a tropical sunset. But while we were in Tanna we had the opportunity to try another form of cooking al fresco; cooking in a volcanic steam vent!
The anchorage Port Resolution is close to Mt.Yasur, an active volcano. On clear nights when the volcano is particularly active you can see the sky glow red. And all along the rocky shoreline there are volcanic vents, some that cough out clouds of steam and others that spurt hot water. We thought it would be fun to try and cook in one of the vents.
There was one section of the shore that was particularly active, several small holes and crevasses hissing and spitting water. We did a recon mission. Surprisingly when we got close there wasn’t a gagging smell of sulphur in the air as we’ve experienced at other hot springs. Where the fountain vents tumbled down into the sea the water was quiet warm, we figured where it pooled on the rocks it would be hot, maybe even hot enough to cook an egg. However where we wanted to land the dinghy was very rocky and, with a swell running, full of surge. It was decided we would need a low tide and a stern anchor for the dinghy to pull the experiment off.
A couple mornings later the conditions were right and with the eggs carefully packed, a new battery in the digital thermometer and our travel mugs full of coffee we climbed in the dinghy for breakfast ashore. Getting onto the slippery rocks was easier than expected, a large smooth topped bolder would be our stage.
Close by was a small, almost perfectly round hole in the rock face that spurt out hot water and steam with such regularity the sound reminded me of an old train. The hot water it spat out trickled down the face of the rock, now coloured in various shades of algae that thrived in the hot, wet mineral-rich environment, and pooled in several small crevasses.
The rocks beneath my feet warmed as I got closer to the vent and I could feel the heat wafting off the water. I found a pool that was about the size of my egg pot on board and stuck in the thermometer. I was surprised that the water was not only hot but close to boiling; 97.1*C to be exact, definitely hot enough to boil an egg. I slipped in the two eggs and set my mental timer to 5 minutes.
When I fished the eggs out they were piping hot but I couldn’t wait to peel them. The eggs were perfect; the whites had set but were soft and delicate, the yolks were just a tiny bit runny. I served them over wedges of bannock that we had cooked over the coals of our beach fire the night before with only a sprinkle of salt and dust of pepper.
We ate our breakfast out of simple white bowls with our hands as we crouched on the warm rocks overlooking the now crowded anchorage. There wasn’t movement on any of the other boats yet, in fact I noted that we hadn’t seen any other dinghies even come over to this side of the bay. I guess cooking in a volcanic steam vent isn’t on everyone’s “Must Do” list when they come to Tanna. They don’t know what they’re missing.