Friday, July 10, 2009

A Ratio For Success

Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio is simply the best cooking book I’ve ever picked up my life. Yes, it’s a cooking book, but not a cookbook. In some ways, Ratio is the anti-cookbook, advocating the eschewing of recipes and the absolute necessity for personalizing the food you make. Ruhlman argues that if you learn the basic relationships of ingredients to one another, you can become a better cook, and a cook that isn’t afraid to experiment. Also, the power of being able to whip up a batch of bread or shortbread cookies without referring to a recipe is amazing in ways that I can’t even begin to describe.

The book aims for giving you the capacity to make good bread, biscuits or pate a choux. Yes, good. Ruhlman gives you the basics, the rules, the ratios. The reader learns them, becomes comfortable with them and eventually takes license to play around with things. The book aims for good, and asks you to, in time, go for great.

I could tell from page one this book would resonate and change my cooking life. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got a bit teary-eyed when beginning to understand the power that Ruhlman was bestowing upon me: the power to create. I felt a wave of emotion; a feeling akin to, I’m convinced, discovering the lost city of Atlantis or the tomb of some lost Egyptian Pharaoh. I find the spoils of this discovery to be, however, much greater.

As the information I read crystallizes, I become excited at the prospects. I can decide how dense or airy I want my baguette, boule or ciabatta to be; I can add extra ingredients to anything and understand how to alter the liquid, fat or flour content to compensate; I can show up anywhere, toss away the package of Pillsbury and make a an impromptu dessert with a 3-2-1 pie crust; I can cook.