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Mar 15, 2010 09:38 PM

Ratios - Michael Ruhlman

Anyone read this book? Did you find it useful?

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  1. Have you seen the iPhone app? It's the vital info of the book and interactive to boot. All the ratios plus some discussion of why they work PLUS a calculator that will set the other measurements if you put in one.

    I recently added it to my iPod Touch but haven't used it yet. It's just $5.

    My iPod has become a useful cooking tool. It has my recipe database on it so I can carry all my recipes with me and if I get a hankering for something for dinner I can pull up the recipe and know what to pick up on my way home without forgetting anything critical. I can also carry it into the kitchen or my baking pantry so I'm not printing recipes on paper anymore. And I can even instantly share recipes if someone else has the same database software.

    1. I found it to be a solid book that helps the reader understand the basics so that they don't have to be tied to individual recipes or cookbooks. I think some people misunderstand his is not to make people slaves to formulas, but rather to free people up to create their own flavor combos, etc. using good, solid cooking techniqes and ratios. Here's a thread with some strong opinions on the book:

      1 Reply
      1. re: bear

        Thanks all - good info. I like his concept - makes one think about recipes and free to add your own touch. iPhone sounds impressive too.

      2. I recently got the iphone app and have tried some things that worked well ( bread, muffins etc). I would love to get feedback on the book as I am thinking of buying it.

        16 Replies
        1. re: cassoulady

          I have found ratio to be a good reference book, but I don't use it for recipes per se. I actually use the iPhone app more. Love the calculator. Enter 1 egg instead of 3, and everything gets adjusted for me. Sometimes it is tricky to downsize some recipes.

          1. re: smtucker

            What I find confusing is that you can't enter an egg as a unit, it is in oz or cups. Do you know the aprox weight of most eggs?

            1. re: cassoulady

              This is from wikipedia, cassoulady:
              Modern Sizes (USA) Size Mass per egg Cooking Yield (Volume)[3]
              Jumbo Greater than 2.5 oz. or 71 g
              Very Large or Extra-Large (XL) Greater than 2.25 oz. or 64 g 56 mL (4 tbsp)
              Large (L) Greater than 2 oz. or 57 g 46 mL (3.25 tbsp)
              Medium (M) Greater than 1.75 oz. or 50 g 43 mL (3 tbsp)
              Small (S) Greater than 1.5 oz. or 43 g
              Peewee Greater than 1.25 oz. or 35 g

                1. re: blue room

                  Thanks, Blue Room. In the Age of Salmonella, these are good equations to keep at hand because it means when a recipe calls for serving raw eggs, you can measure out Eggbeaters of Eggbeaters pasteurized egg whites and use those with no fear!

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    I wish we could get pasteurized shell eggs around here for my raw egg applications. I haven't been able to find them at all.

                    1. re: muscles_marinara

                      If there's a C Town or Whole Foods near you, they carry them in most stores. You can check for more information here:

                  2. re: blue room

                    The difficulty with eggs now is that they don't seem to be sized accurately anymore. I purchased a dozen recently, from a farm in Pennsylvania, where seemingly most supermarket eggs are "imported" from into NYC, and the sizes varied from large to medium, and I've even seen what I would consider small eggs in some dozens. I've taken to weighing them in recipes for more accuracy.

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      If I recall from my "ag class" days (lo these many years ago), eggs for retail sale are (or used to be) (and evidently probably still are) weighed, not by the each, but by the dozen. If a dozen large eggs should weigh 24 ounces, the average (mean) weight would be 2 ounces, but in reality, you might have one that's 1.5 ounces and two that are 2.25 ounces. Or some other variation.

                      (Sorry about all the parentheses.)

                      1. re: Krislady

                        Yup, "used to be" being the operative phrase. Seems to me there were closer in size not so many years ago. Maybe it's just the egg packer I buy them from.

                        I guess we just can't rely on chickens to lay eggs with an exact weight. ;-) My knowledge of egg packing is limited. I worked on an egg farm for one day and never went back.

                        Anyway, I find weighing them (out of the shell, of course) when baking the most accurate way to go.

                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                          I find the size variation irksome at times but what really ticks me off is the way they're packed with sometimes more than half the carton small end up. They;re SUPPOSED to be packed large end up to keep them fresh longer. Sometimes when I fry two eggs, one will have a nice high firm yolk and the other (that has been small end up for who knows how long) will have a yolk that does its damndest to cover the entire bottom of the pan! Flat and wide! <sigh> The world just keeps getting stupider.

                          1. re: bushwickgirl

                            I read online just a week ago that yes, they get weighed by the dozen. And I'm sure too that the sorting *used to be* more uniform. Which is odd, because you'd think it's done by machine.
                            I was surprised to read that the shell is 10 to 11 percent of the weight!

                        2. re: bushwickgirl

                          Funny-- I love egg size variation!! I can use a small one for a late-night snack or a big one for a cake :-)

                          1. re: jvanderh

                            So do I. I buy mine from local farms and the carton is full of mixed sizes (and colors, in some cases). My daughter is learning to bake, so she will often hold up an egg and ask what size I think it is. We've found that in many cases, it doesn't matter all that much unless it's unusually small or large.

                            1. re: Isolda

                              True, and often they're helpfully color-coded. For my current batch, I think brown are the biggest, blue is in the middle, and white are the smallest.

                              I don't worry much either. If the batter looks kind of dry, I add a little water. I am not a very precise cook.

                            2. re: jvanderh

                              Well, that's cool, but in baking it can be an issue.

                              I bought two dozen eggs last week and they were all quite uniform, to my eye, anyway, amazing.

                  3. I love the app and have it for my touch. I use it pretty regularly..

                    1. I own both and regret buying neither. They're both differently useful.

                      If you were looking only for the ratios themselves, then just get the app. The book has a ton of prose that goes along with the various ratios (discussing their use, etc) that make owning the book worthwhile.

                      Ruhlman, being someone who has received professional chef training looks at cooking differently that most home cooks. Professional chefs (like me) generally don't use the rigid ingredient amounts and set of linear instructions that most people think of as recipes. We generally apply classic cooking techniques (sauteeing or kneading for example) to known-successful ingredient ratios (1 part butter to 1 part roux). It's not about following the exact steps laid out in the recipe, it's about knowing how ingredients relate to eachother while cooking.

                      Your bowl of beef stew doesn't care if there was 1 cup or 100 lbs of carrots in the batch in which it was made, as long as they were properly browned, cooked for the correct amount of time, and were about 10% of the stew. As long as the technique is good and the ratio to the other ingredients is the same, the results will be the same.

                      This doesn't just allow for easy manipulation of the amount you make, it also allows for a lot of creative flexibility. So let's say I need 64 2oz portions of a mild, savory, cream based pumpkin sage sauce for a fall roasted chicken dish I'm putting on for a special. I'm not going to spend an hour looking on the internet to see if I can find a recipe... I know the technique of making a roux, and the technique of adding scalded cream to make a bechamel, and the technique of using that as a base of an old fashioned smooth vegetable cream soup... cooks use these techniques every day in the kitchen. The only thing I'd need to know is the appropriate ratio of butter to flour, roux to cream and pureed roasted vegetable to bechamel... and then tweek it from there to get the appropriate flavor. The sky is the limit! If you know the technique of making pie crust and the ingredient ratio for a classic crust, and if you know the technique of making fruit compote, why would you follow a recipe when you can just let your imagination run wild! You could make any crazy fruit pie you could imagine without even thinking about touching a recipe.

                      It also allows you to be able to competently make a wide variety of dishes without needing to memorize a library of information. In culinary school, they didn't give us 50 recipes for soufflés, they gave us the technique of making a soufflé, and told us the ratio of whipped egg whites to enriched base, and told us all of the things that the base could be made out of. Now, I've got an unlimited number of soufflés I could make on the fly from memory without even thinking about it.

                      When you look at cooking this way, the possibilities are limitless.

                      21 Replies
                      1. re: muscles_marinara

                        "It also allows you to be able to competently make a wide variety of dishes without needing to memorize a library of information."

                        Thank you for saying this so well. A friend of mine who tries to cook, but hasn't been very successful is always asking me how I make so many things without recipes, and I guess I've never really been able to explain it well.

                        Do you think the book or the app would be better for a beginner cook?

                        1. re: Jen76

                          i have both as well, and i'd say the book for a beginner, simply because he talks about the ratios, what particular ingredients do, and how varying those ingredients impacts the recipe... i.e. with cookies, he notes about changing the fat ratio or using more or less white or brown sugar, etc. the iphone app is more of a reference tool; the book more a teaching tool.

                          1. re: Jen76

                            I think that the book is perfect for any beginner cook. I wish I could give it to every beginner cook I know to show them how flexible cooking can be before recipe-palsy sets in.

                            It's pretty interesting how so many smart, perceptive people have such a hard time letting go of their overly-rigid 'follow the recipe to the letter' mentality. I used to try and intervene when I would see one of those friends following a recipe right off a cliff, but they almost always refuse the help.

                            The many techniques of cooking are skills that need to be learned and it certainly can be intimidating at first, especially if you're trying to improvise or troubleshoot a mistake... so as you would with any other learned skill, start with simple dishes like spaghetti aglio y olio and a piece of grilled chicken breast. When you're comfortable with that, work your into something more complex.

                            There's a false sense of security that many people get from having recipes, assuming that if they simply perform the step by step instructions to the best of their ability, they'll have exactly what the recipe writer has when they cook it. As a result, they'll often choose recipes solely based on whether or not the end product looks good to them while completely disregarding the level of skill required to execute the recipe.

                            This drives me totally batsh!t.

                            If I were learning to paint, I would first start by painting simple objects so I could become comfortable with holding brushes, mixing colors and putting the paint on the canvas. I wouldn't get a paint by numbers version of Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People and just assume that because I had instructions, it'd come out just like the original.

                            As my kitchen basics instructor used to say "A recipe without the proper application of common sense is completely useless."

                            1. re: muscles_marinara

                              Recipe-palsy is a brilliant term. I think that disease is why my friends think I'm a such a good cook, which cracks me up, because I know I'm just a competent home cook (not handcuffed to a book). Competent home cooking is getting to be a lost art. Sad.

                              I am going to download the app. It sounds handy. I could stand to learn some classical cooking proportions.

                              1. re: muscles_marinara

                                my mother has recipe-palsy (love this term), which is why i can't cook with her. the anxiety just moves me into another dimension. she gets angry when i don't do something right (how the hell can i dice up velveeta wrong? (she was making patty labelle's mac'n'cheese)) she claims she has to do something right the first time, so she can see how it's supposed to turn out, and then can be more flexible after that... she says she doesn't even use a recipe anymore for her crockpot lentil soup. (this is not true either :) ) needless to say, i use recipes as suggestions or inspirations for my own musings and executions.

                                1. re: Emme

                                  Yeah, I'm with you. Recipes are for inspiration. It's not that I don't look at cook books and food magazines, I just look at them for ideas.

                                  Have you looked at the Flavor Bible? Highly recommended. It the meat of the book is essentially a list of ingredients, cuisines or flavors and under each one, it lists flavors that go along with it, common flavor combinations and flavors not to pair with it. It's an excellent book.

                                  What a lot of people fail to realize about recipes is that they're not perfectly written. They can't be. There's just too much variation from ingredient to ingredient, kitchen to kitchen, stove to stove, pan to pan, technique to technique.

                                  *Especially* if they're written by restaurant chefs where the cooking equipment and cooking style is SO different. A number of people have asked me to write out recipes for them for dishes that I've cooked at parties or the restaurant or whatever. It's really hard! I can barely *cook* in a home kitchen without going crazy, let alone try and tell someone how to do something competently in one from memory. How do you tell someone how much to heat up a pan before they put in the ingredient? If they're supposed to heat up the pan until it's really really hot, how do you compensate for the fact that they don't have 32,000 BTU burners (your average home burner is 9,000 BTU) and commercial ventilation systems? Even if you were able to have them get that pan to the exact right temperature, how can you compensate for the fact that in the restaurant you've got a substantial hunk of metal for a pan that's been heated up to that temp and not some flimsy pan I could bend with my bare hands that's going to cool down instantly when the food is added?

                                  Recipes would be worth following to the letter if they were infallible, but they never will be. There's just too many factors beyond your control. It's really frustrating to see people cling to them so rigidly. The less flexible you are, the less you'll be able to compensate for those wild card factors.

                                  1. re: muscles_marinara

                                    Your mention of the Flavor Bible caught my attention so I checked it out on where they have a "Look Inside" preview. It didn't live up to my expectations, but that does not necessarily mean my expectations would not be met by the actual book. Does it provide information such as what spice combinations are most traditional to specific ethnic cuisines and/or which spice combinations will fight with each other? For example, I have only once in my life combined tarragon and garlic in an improvised sauce and vowed never to make that mistake again, yet in all of these years since, I have never come across the same aversion expressed by anyone else. Maybe I'm strange? But if this sort of information is included in the book, I would find it invaluable. Thanks!

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      It does provide common flavor combinations for ethnic cuisines, and provides a list of clashing flavors (soy sauce and mango comes to mind). The content is pretty good overall. They've also got a kindle version for less money that you can read on PCs if you download the free kindle e-reader software.

                                      It's not a cookbook, technique book or anything like that, it's really just a reference list, but I use it pretty regularly when looking for ideas when I'm improvising outside of my immediate comfort zone.

                                      I've actually encountered some lovely preparations with garlic and tarragon, (specifically in French shellfish preparations) though the tarragon has always been **far** from center stage... usually behind white wine, shallots, garlic, butter shellfish and maybe tomato. That said, I think that tarragon may be the most difficult common herb to use well. Even having professional experience and a classical culinary education, I'm always hesitant to use it. Even a little too much tarragon in anything easily ruins a dish AFAIK. It just seems to have an ability to distract from the other flavors in a way that many other herbs that easily overpower (oregano, bay, etc) just don't seem to have. I'll have to look up tarragon in Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking (absolute must-have if you're interested in food science) to see if it says anything.

                                      Though my good friend who grew up in St. Petersburg Russia (as part of the USSR, it may be different now) says that tarragon soda is a staple over there. I'd like to try that. I bet it would make a huge splash (heh heh heh) in the cocktail scene here. I'm thinking some sort of tarragon soda calvados thing. Yum.

                                      1. re: muscles_marinara

                                        Curious our different takes on tarragon. I use it fairly often. In my general reference thinking, it goes with the anise/licorice family. I sometimes use it in salad vinaigrettes, but omit any fresh or powdered garlic. So now I'm wondering if it was just a one time thing? Maybe an unfortunate clash that had to do with time, place, temperature and age of ingredients? Possible. Maybe I'll try again some time.

                                        Thanks for the info about Flavor Bible. I think I'll go for the Kindle version. I'm collecting (downloading and tossing many) free cook books to my kindle. I have a small easel I can sit it on in the kitchen, and it will be a lot handier than my notebook computer! But then I don't know why I'm doing all of this since the last time I used a recipe while cooking was about... hmmm... Maybe around 1964?

                                        So many soft drinks we never see or hear of in the U.S. When I lived in Turkey decades ago, the most popular soda there at that time was what you might call "Banana-Up." Banana flavored soda pop. Banana liquor was big too. Tarragon flavored soda could be quite refreshing, on the other hand, Pernod and club soda would have more kick! '-)

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          I often drink Pernod with rocks and a splash of soda. Yum... though I've noticed a few of the absinthe brands having a slightly more complex herbal flavor AND the anise kick, so I've been occasionally grabbing an absinthe pres as my post-work drink... though I've got a big crush on Fernet Branca and Fernet Menta at the moment. Yum.

                                          re:tarragon... It could be an oversensitivity to something in tarragon on my part too. I could shoot right through the roof after biting into a piece of fresh ginger or lemon grass unexpectedly, and even the aldehydes in the open air walking by a particularly fresh cilantro display in the grocery store will create physical discomfort in my olfactory bulb... and that's *after* force feeding myself cilantro for 6 months to at least be able to taste dishes that contain it for seasoning purposes. I'm confident that I make food that the general public enjoys, but there are certainly some idiosyncrasies in my senses. Fortunately it errs on the side over oversensitivity rather than undersensitivity.

                                          1. re: muscles_marinara

                                            I have a lot of food sensitivities (and allergies!) too. I find it interesting that you're currently on a Fernet Branca trip. I've only had it once on a transAtlantic Swissair flight and found it truly disgusting. BUT! There is evidence that taste and smell at altitude are not reliable in the least, so maybe I'll give it another chance someday with both feet planted firmly on the ground!

                                    2. re: muscles_marinara

                                      "Have you looked at the Flavor Bible? Highly recommended. It the meat of the book is essentially a list of ingredients, cuisines or flavors and under each one, it lists flavors that go along with it, common flavor combinations and flavors not to pair with it. It's an excellent book."


                                      i think this is essential for people asking "how do i learn to cook?" there are numerous threads on here asking "what 10 or 50 or however many dishes do i need to learn?" when i advise them to learn techniques and geographical culinary combinations i feel like i'm whistling into the wind, lol.

                                      i love ruhlman and i think his book should be an essential for many home-cooks. his simple recommendation of cooking quiche in a deep pan instead of a shallow pie plate has transformed my finished product from an eggy-cheesy thing to a velvety elegant custard over which people swoon, lol.

                                      i heart him and subscribe to his blog. his wife takes all the photos and they're stunning.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        It's really too bad that people seem to be so resistant to the idea of learning techniques as the basis for their entry level cooking education. I'll keep preaching the gospel, though I've made very few converts. My mom (who posts here as "bear", and even posted earlier in this thread!) taught me how to cook as a skill separate from recipes. Although I certainly cooked from recipes, I also remember creating recipes as early as 11 (leeks braised in tomato sauce with lemon zest, olives and "lots of garlic"... I even drew pictures of leeks on the paper!). I really do wish I could figure out a more effective way to expose people to this way of thinking.

                                        Ruhlman's the man, his blog rules, his books are killer, his wife seems amazing and her pictures are awesome. That's all I have to say about that! :-)

                                        (definitely a fan of Ho Toy Noodles BTW, and not just because of the awesome name)

                                        1. re: muscles_marinara

                                          lol! do you live in boston? i was SO sad when that store closed. although, i guess the guy still makes killah good noodles.

                                    3. re: Emme

                                      Your mom is probably closer to my generation. When I was in 7th grade girls were required to START taking home ec (and continue through high school).

                                      Which was stupid since I'd been sewing and cooking since I was six.

                                      Both teachers - for sewing and cooking - were adamant about never straying from a pattern or a recipe. They would flunk you if they caught you. So I just made sure they didn't catch me, LOL!

                                      Since I knew what I was doing they couldn't tell from the results that there was anything "wrong" with the way I was cooking, unless they resorted to fishing through all the cookbooks in class to find the recipe and watch me make it, which they didn't do since there were girls in the class who really DID need to be ridden herd on.

                                      Something about that 50's/60's conformity mindset I guess, that a lot of that generation just never really got over, hippies and bell-bottoms notwithstanding.

                                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                                        I'm curious where you went to school? I went to school in southern California, and only one year of home ec (9th grade) was required; a semester of sewing and a semester of cooking,.Sewing was ALWAYS the first semester: We made an apron and one other project of our choice. The apron was for cooking class. Boys were required to take one semester of wood shop and one semester of auto shop. I was not allowed to take either. Gender bias!

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          SW Ohio. I can't remember for sure, but I THINK we started home ec in the 7th grade. Definitely by the 8th grade. I still think it started in 7th grade but I can't swear to it.

                                          No, the more I think of it, the more certain I am it started in 7th grade, continued through 8th and 9th, and then there was another year that was originally required (10th) but by the time I got to 10th grade it was optional.

                                          It was sewing half the school year and cooking the other half, but there were 2 classes - eg half the students took sewing first, the other half took cooking, then they switched.

                                          Boys were allowed to take home ec. Girls were NOT allowed to take shop.

                                          When I started 9th grade, my dad put his foot down. I didn't need home ec, but I wanted to take shop, and they refused to let me. My dad didn't often dig in, but they said something to him that really got his back up, because the next thing I knew, I was out of home ec and in the "graphic arts" class, which was basically photography, lithography, and silk screening. They still wouldn't let me around power tools (no wood shop) but I was the first girl who ever took the graphic arts class.

                                          After that they dropped the requirement for home ec. By the time my sister came along - 6 years later - she took wood shop instead of home ec.

                                          I'd give my eye teeth to know what the heck they said to my mild-mannered dad that got his back up so, but he never did tell me.

                                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                                            Whatever it was, kudos to your poppa! '-)

                                        2. re: ZenSojourner

                                          Power to the people! Subversive cooking man! The *recipe*, is just a tool of the *man* to keep us down man! Question authority!


                                          It's true though... and there are some people that cook exclusively from recipes that make some damn fine food... it's just that I don't think they're getting as much *pleasure* out of it as they could be. Too bad.

                                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                                            Hey, ZenSojourner, as former high school teacher, let me put in a word of defense for your sewing and cooking teachers. It was not so much that they wanted to put you in a straight jacket, but that they wanted to you be able to prove that you could do the pattern or recipe correctly the basic way first.

                                            At the Culinary Institute of America, the chefs don't let you just ad lib recipes. They want you to show that you can make the basic recipe right first.

                                            You may have been placed in too basic a class, but come on, how many seventh graders are capable of more than basic cooking?