Here it is: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. An idea that germinated more than 10 years ago, an idea I have been secretly obsessed by since then, is now a book.
Here is how Alton Brown describes Ratio:
“Cooking, like so many other creative endeavors is defined by relationships. For instance, knowing exactly how much flour to put into a loaf of bread isn’t nearly as useful as understanding the relationship between the flour and the water, or fat, or salt. That relationship is defined by a ‘ratio’ and having a ratio in hand is like having a secret decoder ring that frees you from the tyranny of recipes. Professional cooks and bakers guard ratios passionately so it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Michael Ruhlman is forced into hiding like a modern day Prometheus who, in handing us mortals a power better suited to the gods, has changed the balance of kitchen power forever.
“I for one am grateful. I suspect you will be too.”
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.
Of course, you need more than just those two numbers, you need a little technique as well. Which is why Ratio is a book, not a poster (though Donna is creating an artful 11-by-14 chart of the baking and pastry ratios as an experiment—anyone interested in this, please email me. I may offer it with signed copies of the book).
We have been trained in America to believe that we can’t cook unless we have a recipe in hand. I am not saying recipes are bad or wrong—I use them all the time; there are plenty of recipes in the new book—but when we rely completely on recipes, we cooks do ourselves a grave disservice. We remain chained to the ground, we remain dependent on our chains. When you are dependent on recipes, you are a factory worker on the assembly line; when you possess ratios and basic technique, you own the company.
America is cooking as never before. With our spreading curiosity to know the source of our food, our desire to be less reliant on processed food and expensive boxed mixes, with our growing recognition that cooking at home nourishes our body and soul, and that such food is not only more healthful, economical, and satisfying to eat, I believe we’re ready to truly begin to cook.
From the review by Booklist: “This revealing and remarkably accessible read offers indispensible information for those ready to cook by the seat of their pants; with a handy grasp of these ratios (and a dash of technique), willing chefs should have no excuse to remain tethered to recipe cards and cookbooks.”
I’ll be promoting Ratio and further exploring the ideas contained it during the next couple of weeks. I’ll be happy if the book can continue to deepen our appreciation of cooking and most gratified if it can bring more people into the kitchen. Questions and comments here—on the book, on the idea of ratios, and on cooking generally—are especially welcomed.
I’ve gotten such an enthusiastic response have decided to reduce the price and eliminate shipping for the first 50 people who buy a signed copy of the book through my site (click on “Buy a signed copy” here, and don’t forget to tell me who you want it signed to!). Cover price is $27. I can offer a signed copy for $25 flat for the first 50 orders. Not as good as Amazon at about $22 (with shipping) but I’m not set up to do bulk! Those who have already placed orders will get a rebate. (I can only make this offer for folks in the US, sorry.) That fifty went by too fast! I’ve had to move it back up to cover price plus $4.95 Priority Mail shipping. Sorry I can’t be like amazon!
Also, great response on the poster idea so we will be moving ahead with that. Prototype being finished today, but not sure on specifics. If we do offer free with book, this will happen retroactively for people who order the book now. And thank you everyone for your encouraging responses!
UPDATE 4/10: Thanks for your initial reponses, those who have recieved books. I will be getting the rest of the books out first thing Monday, sorry for the delay.