Friday, May 1, 2015

Ratio by MIchael Ruhlman [book review]

Our April Kitchen Reader book is Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman. In it, he explains how many classic dishes can be described using a simple ratio. For example, bread doughs for loaves, pasta, pies, biscuits, and cookies have similar ratios of flour, water, and eggs or fat. How much of each in the ratio determines what kind of item you are making.

Besides doughs, Rulhman describes the ratios for batters (which make different cakes, muffins, and fritters), stocks, roux, meat mixtures (sausages, for example), fat-based sauces (such as mayonnaise and hollandaise), and custards. I am a grain-free cook, so I skipped over all the baked goods, but for those who make breads and cakes, I imagine this is the most useful part of the book. It's also extensive and detailed. This is a little ironic, since Ruhlman is trying to champion the idea that once you know the basic ratios you are freed from recipes and complications.

For my part, I was interested in the sauces most of all. I have dabbled in making mayonnaise and hollandaise before and I wanted to hone my skills. I think these are relatively easy to make (once you get the hang of them) and so delicious and impressive. Today's breakfast (see picture!) was poached eggs with hollandaise sauce and I think my sauce skills are getting better thanks to reading this book. Instead of attempting to distill Ruhlman's sauce-making advice, please have a look at this page on his website, which describes making hollandaise sauce almost as in the book, complete with helpful pictures.

The ratio to make hollandaise sauce is 5 parts butter : 1 part egg yolk : 1 part liquid (vinegar and water). My new insights thanks to Ratio were that the other liquids are more essential than I realised because they separate the fat molecules, thus producing the emulsion. This also explains why you use other liquids in mayonnaise (which is 20 parts oil : 1 part liquid plus egg yolk). Don't skip the vinegar or lemon juice and water at the beginning of making these sauces. And for hollandaise, add a little extra water as you go since the heating of the sauce vaporises some of the liquids.

Overall, I think Ruhlman is successful at showing that learning some cooking ratios can lead to easier daily cooking. I certainly feel that I can turn a basic mayonnaise into a chilli-lime sauce for steaks or a dill and mint sauce for lamb kabobs.

Next month the Kitchen Reader club is reading Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan (chosen by Vicki of I’d Rather Be At The Beach, Stephanie of Kitchen Frolic, and Pech of Pechluck’s Food Adventures). It's a comedy and I am looking forward to it. Would you like to join us?

Do you follow any recipe "formulas"?

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