Monday food for thought: Ratio

Pax Arcana

I enjoy cooking, which means I must be some kind of homo fruitcake communist — albeit one with a very satisfied wife*.

Sometimes people ask me why I like cooking so much. I tell them it’s because I consider it a creative exercise — and I find creative exercises relaxing. (That’s also why I have built an army of anatomically correct Liz Phair figurines out of papier mache. Well, partly.)

baguetteThis line of reasoning is sometimes lost on people. That’s because we’ve been conditioned to think that cooking means finding a recipe and following instructions. By that reckoning, the best cooks in the world would just be those with the most encyclopedic memories.

This is completely wrong. However, you do have to build up a certain foundation of techniques and vocabulary before you can really start playing around and getting creative in the kitchen.

That’s why I love the idea behind Michael Ruhlman’s new book, Ratio. In it, he examines how a fundamental understanding of certain key ratios can be the springboard to a deeper understanding and appreciation for cooking:

I feel confident in saying there is no book like it, that it’s among the first to explore cooking in this way, cooking by understanding not a cup of this and teaspoon of that but how the proportions of major ingredients relative to the other ingredients make one preparation pasta and another preparation cake.

I like the bread dough ratio mentioned in the video (5 parts flour, 3 parts water) because it shows how a ratio takes the mysterious art of bread baking, and by paring it down to the essential balance of two ingredients, renders it the opposite of mysterious, and therefore, I hope, not so intimidating. With this bread dough ratio, you don’t have a single recipe, you have a thousand. Ratios are the launching point for infinite variations.

I love this concept. I love it so much I want to drizzle it with three parts olive oil and one part sherry vinegar and just shove the whole thing in my mouth.

*Except when I accidentally make pepper spray

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking [Ruhlman]

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Monday food for thought: Ratio

  1. Perry Ellis

    I demand details of the Great Pepper Spray Disaster. Mrs. Pax?

  2. I thought I would make a quick chili oil for a stir-fry I was working on, so I heated up some oil in the bottom of my wok and threw two minced habaneros in there.

    Big mistake.

    Within minutes, we were both gagging and coughing and nearly blinded by searing hot aerosolized capsaicin. She had to sit out on the porch for like two hours.

  3. I’d like some bread now please.

  4. Perry Ellis

    That is the awesomest story you’ve ever told me. How was the stir fry? I take it you dined al fresco that night.

  5. Mrs. Pax Arcana

    My eyes were watering, my throat was burning and I couldn’t stop coughing. It was a lethal. And it was in every room at Pax Manor. I had to sit outside and read on the font steps – I couldn’t go back in the house for like 3 hours.

  6. Mrs. Pax Arcana

    I think it was worse than the time he pan seared some steak, put it in the oven to finish for (insert time here – I have no idea how long it takes to finish cooking steak) and then reached inside and picked up the handle of the pan – with bare hands. The pan landed somewhere on the other side of the kitchen – I think the steak made it into the living room and we ended up having pizza for dinner.

  7. It was chicken. And in my defense I didn’t reach into the oven with my bare hands. I pulled the pan out with a pot holder and set it on a stove. THEN I picked it up with my bare hand and shrieked like a howler monkey.

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