A rainy spring weekend is a great excuse to stay inside, read, and putter in the kitchen. I picked up my awaited copy of Michael Ruhlman‘s latest book (Ratio, The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking) at our local bookstore. Over about my third cup of coffee, I curled up in a comfy spot and proceeded to read half of the book straight.
***Start of fawning aside about Michael Ruhlman as an author***
I’ve read several of Michael Ruhlman’s previous books about professional chefs and the Culinary Institute of America, and his cookbook collaborations. Charcuterie is one of my home cookbook Canon. I like his writing style. He has been through the trenches in cooking school and cooking professionally, and it gives me more confidence in his opinions. The fact he’s passed Skills and can communicate the details clearly mean more to me than that he’s collaborated with Thomas Keller, though that’s probably why he collaborates with such lofty people in the first place.
Reading his books about chefs and my experience at JPH many moons ago make going to a restaurant like Fore Street even more fun, since I observe and more deeply understand the level of detail in the way the chef and staff work. This made my experience there much more enjoyable as an eater, cooking nerd, and former restaurant employee. Especially since I know that the level of detail is something most of their diners won’t even notice.
*** End of fawning aside, back to Ratio ***
Ratio is a book based in his experiences at CIA, and from his experience as a home cook. The premise is that if you know the basic ratios of ingredients (by weight) that make up the foundational recipes (for batters, doughs, sauces, stocks), and understand how the ingredients work together, it frees you as a cook/chef. You have a reliable foundation for the dish, and can improvise at combining flavors or sizing up or down the number of servings, as long as you maintain the ratio of base ingredients.
This is the kind of cooking that appeals to the engineer in me- the hows, the whys the ingredients do what they do, and how your technique of combining the ingredients can change the way the ingredients work together. And the Harold McGee references are always a plus.
I pulled out a scale and mixed up the basic bread dough (5:3 flour:liquid), giving the new mixer’s dough hook a whirl. I used part whole wheat flour and part all-purpose, with a little salt and a teaspoon of yeast. I successfully made a lovely large loaf of bread. Yes, the ratios work (and despite recent failures, I am still a cook!). I’m looking forward to exploring them more. I may need to frame the book jacket, and hang it in the kitchen. It even goes nicely with the paint on the walls. Form AND Function. Love it!