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Chris Amirault

Michael Ruhlman's Ratio

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Now that (I guess) the book is out, I'm curious to take a look. Can anyone tell me what kinds of recipes are covered? It seems to me that "ratios" are important for sauces, baking and pastry primarily. And that's great, but does the book include any actual ratios or recipes for, like, dinner? I can't see that there's a ratio for pot roast, or chicken and dumplings, or roast pork.

I'm not saying that the book isn't worthwhile if it doesn't have these, but I'm very interested to see what it does actually cover.

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Now that (I guess) the book is out, I'm curious to take a look. Can anyone tell me what kinds of recipes are covered? It seems to me that "ratios" are important for sauces, baking and pastry primarily. And that's great, but does the book include any actual ratios or recipes for, like, dinner? I can't see that there's a ratio for pot roast, or chicken and dumplings, or roast pork.

I'm not saying that the book isn't worthwhile if it doesn't have these, but I'm very interested to see what it does actually cover.

In addition, you can expect to find sausages, soups, stews, mousselines, custards, brines and rubs, and some other things like fritters. It's an interesting take on American cuisine. Dumplings can be fitted to a ratio, as well as the brine for a chicken, and the stock for pot roast or or roast pork gravy.

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Here's an interview and recipe from last Wednesday's Globe and Mail: The ratio rules

An excerpt:

Your book includes sections on stocks, sauces, forcemeats and custards, but ratios are traditionally associated with the art of the baker. How do ratios apply to those preparations?

Dough batters show most clearly the power of ratios, but, for instance, I was grinding some hamburger meat last night and to have perfectly seasoned hamburger I went to the salt-to-meat ratio and knew exactly how much salt to add to the meat before I even ground it so that it would be perfectly seasoned. To have an all-purpose brine, twenty-to-one is a perfect, 5 per cent brine. It's great for brining, it's great for preserving, it's great for pickling, it's a great standard brine


Cheers,

Anne

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Just a quick comment to say that I've now seen the published version of Ratio and it contains no changes of any import, so I don't need to revise my original comments above (here) and in the full review on my site.


-- lamington a.k.a. Duncan Markham

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - collaborative book reviews about all things food and wine

Syrup & Tang - candid commentary and flavourful fancies

"It's healthy. It's cake. It's chocolate cake."

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Judging by the custard post on his blog, which I assume is taken from the book, his "ratio" idea is odd IF ONLY because the custard sauce (creme anglaise) recipe he provides is WAY too rich. Too many yolks, and he uses cream when the classic recipe doesn't have ANY!

So what is his ideal ratio? The classic, or the one he decides is right? Weird.

Also, why no gram measures (far more precise than ounces) and why no cooking temperature? The 85-degree C cooking temperature for creme anglaise is scripture for pastry chefs. It's the key to getting it right.

Looking forward to seeing the rest of the book.

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Judging by the custard post on his blog, which I assume is taken from the book, his "ratio" idea is odd IF ONLY because the custard sauce (creme anglaise) recipe he provides is WAY too rich. Too many yolks, and he uses cream when the classic recipe doesn't have ANY!

Lesley C, you've seen some of the probs I noticed too. To quote from his chapter on creme anglaise, in the book's convoluted style:

"The crème Anglaise ratio [4 parts milk/cream : 1 part yolk : 1 part sugar] ... is simplified and measured by weight; a yolk is .6 ounces or about 1/2 ounce, so this amounts to 2 yolks per ounce or 4 yolks per 8 ounces dairy; it's a richer, slightly sweeter version than what is a more common dairy-to-yolk ratio, which is 3 yolks per cup of liquid. If you are making a quart of custard, 12 yolks results in an excellent sauce. So an alternative volume ratio that works well is 1 cup of milk/cream : 3 yolks : 3 tablespoons of sugar." [original emphasis]

So what is his ideal ratio? The classic, or the one he decides is right? Weird.

A lot of the time it's the neatest ratio he could create in US Customary units, for weight.

Also, why no gram measures (far more precise than ounces) and why no cooking temperature? The 85-degree C cooking temperature for creme anglaise is scripture for pastry chefs. It's the key to getting it right.

Metric: only very occasionally in Ratio, despite him acknowledging the virtues of metric units.

Temperature: perhaps he assumes home cooks won't have a suitable thermometer?


-- lamington a.k.a. Duncan Markham

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - collaborative book reviews about all things food and wine

Syrup & Tang - candid commentary and flavourful fancies

"It's healthy. It's cake. It's chocolate cake."

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Forget the content, what about the fantastic cover? I just going to have to get this book, whatever's inside it.

Catherine

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The problem here is not so much the cream (you could make creme anglaise with Vin Santo) but the yolk ratio. If the book is about ratios, this one is too high. Why does he stray from the classic recipe of 12 yolks/liter of dairy? I wonder if any pastry chef out there is using this high a ratio of yolks to dairy anymore.

And his recipe is actually not sweeter than the classic, which calls for 250g (1 1/4 cups) of sugar over his 200g (1 cup).

Creme anglaise is the perfect example of a recipe that has evolved from the days of Escoffier and Point when pastry was far too rich. All that has changed, but Rhulman is bringing us back to the pastry dark ages.

Anyway, I really should hold all commentary before I see the book. I got this much from his blog.

As for the cover comment, wow, is that what it all comes down to these days?

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The cover is cool and useful, but the book so far has been worth the $25 due to it's content.

Of course it is his content and what he believes is right and I doubt he makes any claim otherwise. Also, it is worth noting that he make it clear from the onset in the intro, that Ratio is not a cooking bible! He clearly states that cooking is infinitly nuanced, common sense should be used and proper technique is paramount. Ratio is a baselineto work from. That's all.

The writing is superb and engaging and with the dreck of mediocre recipe books that gets released every year, this one ius really a gem. So far I gave the Genoise cake a spin using the 1:1:1 ratio of fat, flour and eggs and you know what? It worked fantastically well even though I had my suspicions. IT had a perfect texture in both a round cake form for layering and as a sheet cake to roll or make small cakes from. I even made a cocoa version by subbing some cocoa for the flour. The bread 5:3 ratio also worked out perfectly for me and I am no amateur baker. It is very good to remember a ratio like that. Is that worth $25? To me it is.

And no...it does not have a ratio for "like dinner". Even asking that is simply rediculous and tells me you are simply "like poking fun" for fun's sake. I'm guessing sausage ratios do not count as "dinner" either.

Cons: Not using metric weights in the recipes. Ask Dorie Greenspan how tough it is to get weights in recipes period (see the thread about baking from her book for a discussion about that with her)! Let alone both Imperial and Metric.

Other than that, I'm sure not all recipes are perfect and there are errors. But please, let's "discuss" the book based on what it is trying to do.


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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The problem here is not so much the cream (you could make creme anglaise with Vin Santo) but the yolk ratio. If the book is about ratios, this one is too high. Why does he stray from the classic recipe of 12 yolks/liter of dairy? I wonder if any pastry chef out there is using this high a ratio of yolks to dairy anymore.

And his recipe is actually not sweeter than the classic, which calls for 250g (1 1/4 cups) of sugar over his 200g (1 cup).

Creme anglaise is the perfect example of a recipe that has evolved from the days of Escoffier and Point when pastry was far too rich. All that has changed, but Rhulman is bringing us back to the pastry dark ages.

Anyway, I really should hold all commentary before I see the book. I got this much from his blog.

As for the cover comment, wow, is that what it all comes down to these days?

I liked the ratio, I thought it was the right amount of sweetness. I'm using it as a sauce though and not pouring it over my cereal :smile:

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It seems to me that for a group of people who pride themselves on being adept in the kitchen there are some who desire to be led by a nose ring. Yeah..I found the bread ratio just a little dry....hmm..I changed it. Now I have the power. :laugh:

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The writing is superb and engaging and with the dreck of mediocre recipe books that gets released every year, this one ius really a gem.

From what I've read (admittedly only what's available on Amazon), the writing is as pedestrian as I've come to expect from Ruhlman, although it's certainly edited better than Elements was.

And no...it does not have a ratio for "like dinner". Even asking that is simply rediculous and tells me you are simply "like poking fun" for fun's sake. I'm guessing sausage ratios do not count as "dinner" either.

At the time when I asked my question, I had no idea what the book was actually going to include -- I may have phrased it facetiously, but it was not a ridiculous question. It seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, that ratios are useful for baking and sauces (sausages too) but not the majority of cooking.

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A quick look at Repertoire de La Cuisine will show you how usefull a short hand can be when doing things like cakes, breads, sauces, and sausages. If you're in a strange kitchen and want to make yeasted rolls think 5-3. If I need a quick cake to use up cherries in a sauce? Its easy to think 1-1-1 and you're ready to go. Its quite a different way of thinking than reading and following recipes and not every one will find it valuable I suspect. I however do and think its an excellent reference.

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From what I've read (admittedly only what's available on Amazon), the writing is as pedestrian as I've come to expect from Ruhlman, although it's certainly edited better than Elements was.

Would you elaborate on that? I find his writing to be great and, while not a writer or editor myself, I'm not ignorant of the subject and I found your statement surprising.

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Not only is his writing oddly phrased and awkward, it also contains grammatical and punctuation errors.

For instance, here's the second sentence in the "Doughs" chapter that's excerpted on Amazon here:

"The simplest dough is flour and water, and will be relatively flavorless unless you do something to it, such as add fat, egg, yeast, salt, sugar, or if you wrap it around something tasty (ground pork) and fry it, as with a Chinese pot sticker (6 tablespoons of cold water into a cup of flour will give you a workable pot sticker dough, or about 2 to 1 by weight)."

This appears a page or so later:

"A bread that’s mixed with a lot of yeast and baked 4 hours later hasn’t had the time to develop flavors – so adding flavors to these doughs, herbs, aromatics, olives, nuts, even a coating of olive oil and coarse salt before baking, goes a long way in this case."

I'm not saying that a cookbook has to be elegant and beautifully written (although that's a wonderful thing when it happens). But I don't expect to have to stop and read a sentence twice or three times to get its meaning. If that happens once in a book, I can overlook it. If it happens twice in three pages, I assume that it's going to keep happening, and that makes me reluctant to keep reading. That's what I mean when I say it's not good writing.

I expect more from a published author.

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I expect more from a published author.

There seems to be a preconceived bias here, especially when a few sentences are lifted from Amazon excerpts and dissed.

I find the excerpts read well and get the idea through to me, even if the sentences are overly compounded.

The entire book is available now, and perhaps a better basis for a critique.

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I’m not "dissing" the book based on two sentences. Qwerty asked specifically why I said the writing wasn’t good. I went to the chapter on Amazon, which is what I’ve read, and picked two confusing sentences (out of several) with lots of errors. I’m not saying the book is worthless because of them; I’m saying that in my opinion it’s not an example of good writing.

By the way, I think Ruhlman’s books about other people (Making of a Chef, etc.) are good -- much better than his books about cooking. Some writers are great at capturing the essence of a person or situation and not that great at explaining concepts. So I don’t think I have preconceived ideas about his writing. I was really hoping that the bad writing in Elements was a fluke and that Ratio would be better.

Also, as I said, this doesn’t mean I think the book is worthless. It’s limited in scope, but limited can be a very good thing, if it’s done well. And as I said, pedestrian writing is not the worst fault in a cookbook. I think it’s great that he’s getting cooks to think about weights, and I think as far as ratios can take a cook, they’re a valuable thing to think about, especially for a beginning cook who may not have considered that aspect of cooking.

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I don't see any grammatical errors in your examples, other than a missing hyphen after doughs. I'll admit that the sentences may be just a touch awkward, but I think that the structure actually works well and I've seen much worse.

Maybe he just needs a better editor, no? I'd love to see how you would re-write that sentence to make it better.

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I don't see any grammatical errors in your examples, other than a missing hyphen after doughs. I'll admit that the sentences may be just a touch awkward, but I think that the structure actually works well and I've seen much worse.

I guess we have differing ideas of good writing. Because other writers have done worse doesn't mean that this is good.

Maybe he just needs a better editor, no?

We're agreed on that point. It's odd that he didn't have a better editor. I wonder why that is.

Incidentally, I'm curious about something I didn't mention before -- in the first sentence I quoted, he says that "6 tablespoons of cold water into a cup of flour will give you a workable pot sticker dough, or about 2 to 1 by weight." Doesn't 6 tablespoons of water weigh about 3 oz. and a cup of flour somewhere between 4.25 and 5? Maybe my math is off, but if that's the case then calling it a ratio of 2 to 1 is wrong. Considering that the book is called Ratio, it's a careless error.

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I'm pretty hopeful Janet, that whenever your book comes out it will be flawless. :smile:

Aside, from the suggested substandard writing, maybe we could take a look at what the book actually offers?

I was the lead tester for this book, and yes, I proof read the manuscript as well as Micheal's regular editor, so mea culpa if there are errors.

The ratios work. Some of these recipes/ratios have become standards in my home cooking rotation.

Regardless. The book is geared for the home cook. Not necessarily the very advanced home cook, but one who is reasonably comfortable in the kitchen and is looking to expand and springboard to the next step.

Will it be pedestrian for some of the people on eG? No doubt. Is it way past what Rachel Ray offers? Count on it. Will it work for those who are looking to tear this author's work apart? Never, in a million years.

I can say I tested 90% of these recipes myself, and what I didn't test, the other members of the group did. We discussed what worked and what didn't. Changes were made where necessary.

They work. Are they the best recipes in the world? No. But that wasn't the aim, if anyone bothers to read the introductions.

The aim was for good and what works. Once you have good, and you know the basic ratio, you can springboard into excellent. You can take a ratio and make it your own. That is all the aim is here, which is to try to free the home cook from doggedly following a recipe, thinking that is all there is.

It's a pretty simple concept and some of the recipes are damned good!


Edited by Marlene (log)

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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There is an article in the NYTimes on Ratio today: link.

As for the “everyday cooking” the subtitle trumpets, there are extensive discussions of pâte à choux, crepes, beurre manié, slurry, mousseline, hollandaise, crème anglaise — everyday cooking if you happen to cook in a French restaurant.

Mr. Ruhlman is out of step with the 20-minute-meal approach of most new cookbooks, as he’s all too painfully aware.

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There is an article in the NYTimes on Ratio today: link.
As for the “everyday cooking” the subtitle trumpets, there are extensive discussions of pâte à choux, crepes, beurre manié, slurry, mousseline, hollandaise, crème anglaise — everyday cooking if you happen to cook in a French restaurant.

Sigh. We've been down this road before.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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As for the “everyday cooking” the subtitle trumpets, there are extensive discussions of pâte à choux, crepes, beurre manié, slurry, mousseline, hollandaise, crème anglaise — everyday cooking if you happen to cook in a French restaurant.

It's strange how adamantly Ruhlman insists that this type of observation is misguided.

From his blog before the book came out, in response to a review by Robert Sietsema:

This is exactly what bothers me about criticism of all things French in the culinary world.  My book, which is called Ratio, is about the fundamentals of cooking (and using weight-based ratios of basic ingredients), and while those may have been best categorized and explained by French cooks beginning hundreds of years ago, these fundamentals apply to every kind of cooking there is, Mexican, Italian, Russian, Asian, because food behaves the same in one country as it does in another.

And today, in response to the NYT review:

And I am still taken to task for using French terms to describe universal techniques, as if to say "his ideas are right—if only he'd say them in English." 

There's absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on French tradition and cooking, but why does he have to insist that it's "universal"? He's like a linguist who studies Romance languages and then says that language is the same everywhere, ignoring Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, Hebrew and virtually all of Africa's traditional dialects.

That is, food might behave the same in one country as it does in another (whatever that means), but cooks don't cook the same in every culture. The techniques he discusses are not universal -- no more than the Indian techniques of toasting spices and cooking in a tandoori are universal, or the Mexican technique of cooking tortillas on a comal is universal.

For whatever reason, he can't admit that, though, and it's unfortunate.

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