Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking

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Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking

Post by thelight » Wed Jan 05, 2011 12:02 am

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Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, by Michael Ruhlman

I've been cooking for most of my life, even though my definition of cooking has changed considerably over the years. When I was young, cooking meant helping my mother in the kitchen with whatever she would let me do. It started out with holding a spoon here and there, to stirring the pots, to actually cutting up the veggies. Cooking was listening to what my mother told me to do, and following her instructions closely. As I grew, cooking became more complicated. I found cook books and cooking shows, which opened up an entirely new world! All of a sudden I had recipes to follow instead of just my mother's words of wisdom. This evolution continued as I learned to "customize" recipes. Take a little from one recipe, a little from another, maybe change up some spices here and there... This led to some culinary triumphs, like the oddly delicious scrambled pancake, and many culinary failures; pancakes should never have tendrils. The evolution continued as I realized there were different techniques for cooking. I purchased the Culinary Institute of America's The Professional Chef and worked my way through bits and pieces of it to broaden my horizons and skill base. I watched shows like Alton Brown's Good Eats and began learning how ingredients actually worked together. I started to see the patterns in recipes and come up with some of my own. But I was still basing my culinary work on existing recipes in one way or another.

Then I came across a list of Alton Brown's favorite cook books. Some of the items on the list were familiar, the first one was my mother's culinary bible The Joy of Cooking. Others were just plain intriguing, like this book called Ratio. Math? In cooking? My inner engineer just had to know more...

Eventually, Ratio was ordered, made its way into my mailbox, my book pile, and my hands. Let me start by saying that Ratio is not a cookbook in the classic sense: it does not contain a list of recipes. In fact, ratio has only a handful of recipes in the whole book. Ratio is, as its title suggests, about ratios. More specifically, it is about the fundamental ratios that exist in the world of cooking. Why is this important? Allow me to quote from the first paragraph of ratio. "When you know a culinary ratio, it's not like knowing a single recipe, it's instantly knowing a thousand." Ratio is primordial culinary power, pure and simple.

Ratio's author, Michael Ruhlman gives each ratio in its own chapter, where he discusses some of the nuances of the ratio. In the bread section, for example, he details kneading, yeasts, and a few ways to expand on the basic ratio. Each chapter then has some example recipes using the ratio, and a few final notes. Every section of this unassuming little tome is packed with useful information. Even it's cover is a useful chart of the continuum of dough, from bread to crepes. Ratio is a true eye-opener. Want to bake bread? Five parts flour to three parts water. Salt and yeast are encouraged, but optional. Five to three and you will have bread. All bread, of any kind starts with this simple ratio. Want pie dough? 3:2:1 flour, fat, water. Crepes? 1:1:.5 Liquid, Egg, Flour. Stocks? 3:2 Water, Bones. Mayonnaise, not the clunky, bland store-bought mayo, but deliciously creamy and flavorful mayonnaise? 20:1+1 Oil, liquid, yolk. Ratio is the culinary world at its simplest and most elegant.

Ratio by itself won't do the average person much good, I suppose. You have to have an appreciation for cooking and a desire to understand why it works the way it does. If you like your TV dinners luke-warn, Ratio is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to learn the most fundamental parts of actual cooking, if you want to expand your horizons past simple recipes, if you want to grow as a cook and not just be a follower, Ratio may well be your path to enlightenment.
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Re: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Coo

Post by whisk.e.rebellion » Wed Jan 05, 2011 12:05 am

Awesome. I've added the book to my wishlist.

While knowing things like ratios (especially for mirepoix and mother sauces) is incredibly helpful, it's still kind of "following someone else's" instructions; albeit, these instructions have been proven by time and science.
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Re: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Coo

Post by thelight » Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:29 am

Is it following instructions, or a more fundamental law... e=mc^2 for example?
Dunno, but it's still damned useful and liberating! :lol:
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Re: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Coo

Post by Chef » Wed Jan 05, 2011 2:22 am

I generally like what Ruhlman has to say, and Ratio has been on my reading list for a while. I haven't seen a bad review yet.

If you're into the science and engineering aspect of cooking, Harold McGee wrote the Bible. I highly recommend it. My only complaint with my copy is a crappy binding that cracked and started to shed signatures within a week of me getting it. :(
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Re: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Coo

Post by Fletch » Wed Jan 05, 2011 3:42 am

Whenever I think cooking+science, it always = Heston Blumenthal

From Wiki:

Blumenthal is a proponent of modern cooking; he opened his own research and development kitchen in early 2004. It could be said that he is a molecular gastronomist, though he dislikes the term, believing it makes the practice sound "complicated" and "elitist."

One of his signature techniques is the use of a vacuum jar to increase expansion of bubbles during food preparation. This is used in such dishes as an aerated chocolate soufflé–like dessert. The reduction in air pressure inside the jar causes bubbles to grow to a larger size. He has experimented with amplification to enhance the sounds, such as the crunch, created while eating various foods.


Thanks for the book info, I will definitely look into it :)
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Re: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Coo

Post by whisk.e.rebellion » Wed Jan 05, 2011 11:49 am

thelight wrote:Is it following instructions, or a more fundamental law... e=mc^2 for example?
Conformist! What's science but someone else's rules, anyway? :lol:
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Re: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Coo

Post by Big B » Thu Jan 06, 2011 8:23 pm

Hmmmm, this sounds like a book my wife would like. She is a great cook and gets really into trying to change recepies and making her own.

Thanks for the review!
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Re: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Coo

Post by ghostface » Thu Jan 20, 2011 12:18 pm

I am so thrilled to see this in a ZS book review.

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