I’m on a book craze right now and can’t stop stuffing my face with awesome literature. I recently finished reading An Edge in the Kitchen by Chad Ward and immediately after finishing, I picked up Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman which I quickly devoured in each spare minute that I had. In my opinion, Ratio should be required reading for anybody who cooks in the kitchen.
On Goodreads, I gave this book a 5-star rating. It’s awesome. Really.
The purpose behind Ratio is to enlighten and teach the home cook about the fundamentals of cooking in the kitchen. Sounds boring, I know, but the concept of ratios is simply fascinating. It’s not as if cooking with ratios is a super-duper, ultra-guarded secret (because it’s not), but interesting enough, it’s not well known among home cooks. Knowing ratios gives you the power to ditch the recipes, grow some wings, and fly! It won’t be long before you’re creating recipes of your own. In fact, using his custard ratios, I created a tasty (and interesting) vanilla peach custard. I’ll post the recipe once I refine it a bit. It was my first ever attempt at custard, but I could do it thanks to being taught simple custard ratios.
Let’s explore some of the fascinating aspects of Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio.
This is my first time reading a book by Michael Ruhlman. He’s a great writer which can take a subject like cooking with ratios and turn it into a remarkably knowledgeable and enjoyable 250+ page book. The introduction alone sucked me in. It explains why ratios free you from recipe bondage and why they’re so useful to know and understand, which can be summed up in a single sentence from the introduction, page xv:
Ratios are the points from which infinite variations begin.
Michael’s writing is clever and well thought out. It’s immediately apparent that he has spent hours of researching and experimenting with ratios. His writing isn’t full of jokes and humor (there’s a couple bits of humor in there), but it’s dripping with energy and passion that makes you want to jump up and immediately start cooking using your newly found ratios as a spring board.
At first I found it ironic that although Ratios teaches you how to be a recipe-free cook, it includes a handful of recipes at the end of each chapter. Realize, though, that this is to help you experiment with the knowledge. They’re basic recipes that if followed will help you see what the ratios are doing and what happens when you combine them as taught.
Before I purchased this book, one of my hesitations was that it might give me the ratios and then leave me high and dry about what they mean and how to use them. I don’t think this fear is unfounded as many instructors and instructions do just that. They teach you the what but often leave out the how, why, or when, or all of them. Ruhlman has taken great care to explain each of the ratios in detail as to why they function the way they do, what is happening during each step, how to alter them, and many of the small stuff that’s happening behind the scenes as your food cooks. I loved this about his book.
This brings me to another point. Although the primary purpose of this book is to teach about cooking with ratios, it also provides gads of tips and tricks to make your cooking come alive. Some of the advice given isn’t directly related to cooking with ratios, but is just as good and solid.
The Pasta section was one of my favorites. I enjoy working with doughs, apparently, so does the author. He treats pasta making like it’s the world’s greatest pleasure and it makes you want to immediately jump up and whip up a batch of noodles. As a side note, I grew up on home made noodles and we also make them in our home for our soups. They honestly can’t be beat; they’re hearty and contain a lot more flavor than the packaged shelf noodles.
Michael Ruhlman also explains a lot of the intricacies of baking breads, such as why letting the bread rise once and then kneading it again and letting rise yet again is important. I’d be interested to know how many home cooks would answer that question correctly if asked on the spot. I was surprised to find that he references an article that I referenced on an earlier post in my blog about cooking bread within a enamel covered cast-iron pan. (Check it out here.)
If ever a Ratios: Version 2 comes out, there are two areas that I would like to see altered.
1) There is a lot of fancy (albiet correct) culinary terms used in the book that if you’re not familiar with the terminology can get confusing. (Words like pâte sucrée, beurre manié, and pâtés en terrine are used frequently.) If that describes you might want to consider keeping a French-English dictionary by your side or become familiar with the various methods of finding word definitions online, like Google translate, define, and even Wikipedia.
2) There isn’t a whole ton of photography in the book, and the photography that is in there is in gray-scale. They’re excellent pictures, but I would like to see what some of the foods he describes look like in color. It would seem that he recognized a need for that and his latest book, Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques 100 Recipes A Cook’s Manifesto appears to address that issue (I want to order it!).
Those two concerns aside, I loved this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough to cooks who want to expand their culinary skills and embrace the world of non-recipe experimentation.
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If you enjoyed this review or want to buy this book, you can do so on Amazon. The following is an Amazon affiliate link that will take you there (I was not paid for this review, nor was the product provided to me):