Thanksgiving with the Coast Guard: Underway with Stratton

Thanksgiving is a time for friends, family and, of course, food! All this week, Coast Guard Compass will be sharing Thanksgiving recipes from Coast Guard food service specialists stationed around the globe.

If you’re still looking for that perfect side dish, a recipe for your main course or an amazing dessert, these Coast Guard food service specialists have got you covered!

Stay tuned all week as we share these original and creative fall favorites, enjoyed by Coast Guard crews throughout the holiday season. If you have any suggestions or fall favorites of your own, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Martinez poses for a portrait aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton. Martinez is in charge of planning and preparing the Thanksgiving meal while the Stratton is deployed. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Martinez poses for a portrait aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton. Martinez is in charge of planning and preparing the Thanksgiving meal while the Stratton is deployed. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson

The picture that comes to mind for many when thinking of what Thanksgiving looks like in a snapshot may be the Norman Rockwell painting of the smiling family passing robust, steaming dishes around the dining room table in their home. In reality, the ideal family and home comes in many different forms. For Robert Martinez, his family is made up of 125 members all dressed in dark blue, and his home is making way in the Pacific Ocean.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Martinez from Miami, Florida, has been a food service specialist aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton for over two years. Even though cooking is not his only shipboard responsibility, it is his passion. His other responsibilities include being the food service officer in charge of paperwork, money management and inventory for the department; he is a certified emergency medical technician, making him a member of the medical training team; and he is the ship’s barber and photographer.

“I absolutely love this ship,” said Martinez. “It’s the best of the six I’ve been on so far.”

His passion for cooking emulates throughout the Stratton’s galley and creates an atmosphere of enthusiasm and, to the crew’s benefit, a bit of friendly competition between the cooks.

“I’ve always been on the artistic side, I love food and it is the one way I know how to show everyone on board I care; the best way to anyone’s heart is through their stomachs,” said Martinez. “Plus, it’s a job that a computer could never replace.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Martinez minces onions aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, Nov. 20, 2015. Martinez has been a food service specialist on the Stratton since 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Martinez minces onions aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, Nov. 20, 2015. Martinez has been a food service specialist on the Stratton since 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

Martinez said his goal in cooking for a crew of approximately 125 people is to bridge the gap between work and comfort. Since national security cutters are underway for months at a time with demanding work hours and limited communication access to family back home, the quality of food each day can make a dramatic difference in morale.

“The crew has enough to worry about without complaining about food,” said Martinez. “We affect everybody aboard every single day, and we do our best to cater to all.”

As with all military services, Coast Guard cutters do not schedule deployments around holidays. While families are at home with an empty chair at the table, Coast Guardsmen deployed all over the world are standing watch, carrying out missions and providing search and rescue services to the maritime community. To make those long days away from home bearable, members find camaraderie and kinship in their shipmates to spend the holidays with.

“It’s very hard to leave home, especially when you have kids,” said Martinez. “It was hard for everybody this patrol in particular after such a short time in port and having it be over the holidays, but we also see this boat and crew as our family.”

Martinez said any holiday meal while underway is special. The first thing each person thinks of when they wake up while underway is the fact that they are not home, so the food service specialists like to give them something to look forward to. They try to make it as comfortable and close to home as possible.

“Of course being underway for the holidays isn’t everyone’s first choice, but we make it our own,” said Martinez. “We make it Stratton-worthy.”

Without having family around, he said it’s like hanging out with your friends. Some people do get sad, but others notice and immediately take the initiative to bring the individual back up.

In the first days of planning holiday meals underway, shipmates outside of the food service department volunteered to give the cooks the day off by preparing, serving and cleaning up the meals.

“The officers are handling Christmas dinner, the chiefs are making Christmas brunch, and they are giving the cooks the night off,” said Martinez. “Everyone wanted to do Thanksgiving dinner, but that’s something we wanted to do for the crew. Underway during the holidays, we try our best to make it feel like home since this is our floating home.”

For the past several years, Martinez has been preparing a Thanksgiving turkey with a recipe that he’s kept under wraps despite the request from friends and even family.

“I have a recipe for my turkey, and I don’t give it to anybody,” said Martinez. “Even my family has asked and I won’t give it up.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Martinez prepares lunch aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, Nov. 20, 2015. Martinez takes pride in feeding the Stratton crew of 125 people nutritious, well-balanced meals. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Martinez prepares lunch aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, Nov. 20, 2015. Martinez takes pride in feeding the Stratton crew of 125 people nutritious, well-balanced meals. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

After thinking it through and clearly having an inner debate, he decided that if his recipe were to get out, featuring it to the Coast Guard family in spirit of the holidays would be the perfect way to do it.

“I learned this recipe on a cross-country road trip over Thanksgiving when we stopped at a local restaurant, Mom and Pop’s, in a small town in Missouri,” said Martinez. “The turkey was so good and had a distinct flavor. [The cook] said it was fennel, which nobody thinks to use.”

With Martinez’s Puerto Rican heritage and his counterpart, Petty Officer 2nd Class Eddie Corcino’s, Dominican heritage, many dishes served on the Stratton incorporate traditional recipes and flares. One of the dishes included is pernil, a traditional pork shoulder recipe.

“In my family, the turkey was the side and the main dish was the pork shoulder. It’s a very Spanish tradition, the way we make them,” said Martinez. “There are a lot of Hispanic and Latino people aboard, so these dishes are just a little bit of home.”

With the much-anticipated turkey handled, Martinez relies on the rest of the food service staff for the other dishes.

“If I had to choose my own cooks, I would choose these ones with my eyes closed,” said Martinez. “I would put us up against any galley in the Coast Guard.”

Martinez said, the energy in the galley is infectious, but it is really the command that sets the climate for the Stratton crew’s hardworking and positive attitude.

“It’s not just the meal itself that makes people have a good holiday, it’s the actions throughout the entire day,” said Martinez. “This command is so amazing with feeling the crew’s pulse that it’s never an issue.”

The Stratton crew is currently upholding the Coast Guard mission to counter illicit trafficking in the Eastern Pacific. Although the mission comes first, the command and crew find ways to reward their hard work to maintain a well-balanced mindset to be mission-ready 24 hours a day.

“With this crew, there is no ‘making the best’ of anything because it’s always the best,” said Martinez. “This crew always puts their best foot forward – That is just the Stratton way.”

Below, Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Martinez shares his ‘secret recipe’ for Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

‘Secret Recipe’ Turkey

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Martinez lunch aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, Nov. 20, 2015. Martinez will lead meal preparation for the 125-member crew while the cutter is deployed over the Thanksgiving holiday. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Martinez lunch aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, Nov. 20, 2015. Martinez will lead meal preparation for the 125-member crew while the cutter is deployed over the Thanksgiving holiday. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

Seasoning

2 tbsp Poultry Seasoning
Garlic Powder
Kosher Salt
Sage
Black Pepper
1 tbsp Fennel Seed (secret)
Olive Oil (mix till consistency of wet sand)

Injection Solution

2 tbsp Complete Seasoning
¾ stick Melted Butter
1 cup Warm Water

Directions:

1. Mix all dry ingredients together
2. Add olive oil till it has the consistency of wet sand
3. Mix injection solution
4. Inject turkey in multiple fat or meaty locations
5. Take rub mixture and rub some underneath the skin covering the breast meat
6. Take the rest of the rub and continue all around the bird till it is completely covered
7. Let sit overnight
8. Cook turkey – follow directions on the packaging or 15 min per lb. of turkey
9. Pull turkey at 165° and let rest 20 minutes before carving

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