I did two promotional videos for my new book, one a general description of the book (love that that one has a shot of Donna photographing, and one about an idea I thought people might call me out on. Even my recipe tester/organizer/overseer, Marlene Newell, had issues with this.

Can food be a technique?

I say it can. A technique is an action that has multiple applications. So while yes, an egg is an egg, it’s also an emulsifier, a leavener, a binder, and enricher. Therefore using an egg can be considered a core cooking technique. Knowing how to use salt, is one of the chef’s greatest assets. Learning how to think about these foods as tools makes you a better cook.

Disagree? I’ve heard some gripes but nothing substantial. I’d love to read comments.

Ultimately, it’s a semantic issue. You can’t argue that when you know how to manipulate water in all its many forms, you aren’t a better cook. And would Seven Ingredients, Three Preparations and Ten Techniques been a good title? I don’t think so.

Twenty techniques: keep things simple.

Simplify, simply, simplify.

If you liked this post on Twenty: Food Tips, check out these other links:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved



9 Wonderful responses to “Ruhlman’s Twenty: Food Tools”

  • Tags

    If you use ingredients to manipulate other ingredients, then that passes the “tool test.”

  • Andrew

    As you said it’s semantics. By definition, a technique is a skill or a process, a procedure. There might be a technique to “egging” a house or car on Halloween, but most cooks wouldn’t say it’s time to “egg” their sauce or dough. For egg, the technique would be the leavening, the binding, the emulsification, etc. Similarly, you don’t “water” your meat but you might braise it using water. You don’t “onion” your soup, but you may sweat or caramelize onions to start things off. With salt, you can get away with it, because “salting” is a method, an action. as well as an ingredient. That being said, you are entitled to some creative/artistic license with this, and the various techniques associated with these ingredients are very important in the kitchen. In my opinion, people can take issue with stretching the definition if they want to nitpick, but in the worst case scenario it’s a justifiable abuse for the sake of simplicity and effective communication (and not making silly
    book titles). And in your own defense, you understand and explain why you may have taken liberties with the language.

    • Peter

      Well, I don’t ‘knife’ a carrot either. I chop, slice, dice, or cut it. I would say that a technique is the action of using something in a consistent way, to achieve particular and consistent results. By that definition, food can be a technique.

  • bob del Grosso

    Yeah, there is a semantic problem in the narrative, but so what, the message is clear: When you begin to understand the roles that salt, sugar, water, acids and bases and other elementary substances (and processes) play in the kitchen, it’s a hop-skip and a jump to culinary mastery.

  • Chris K.

    Ingredients in and of themselves do not constitute technique, only potential. Technique informs one’s understanding of an ingredient.

    If you want semantics: the word “technique” derives from the Greek word “techne,” which is often translated as “craft” or “art” but in the philosophical sense also implies the application of knowledge toward a specific goal or objective.

    So, are ingredients craft or art? Is a pile of lumber a house? Is a can of paint the Mona Lisa? Of course not. But is that lumber made from quality wood? Is there craft or art in producing a fine oil paint? How can you know the difference, without understanding both the ingredient and the technique?

    As a cook, I can poach an old, factory-farmed egg, and maybe produce a not-so-crappy product, if I’m lucky. But give me a fresh egg from a happy, fat, pasture-raised hen and I can transform it into something special, perhaps even memorable. The technique – my knowledge and (assumed) craftsmanship – only gets me so far, without good ingredients, and my ability to ascertain their quality.

  • MarkR

    Well, I can see both sides of the issue. I would love too see a cookbook that was solely organized by technique. After all, eggs can be used to emulsify, but so can other ingredients, so an emulsifications chapter makes sense to me. On the other hand, making doughs and batters and breads are very definitely “Techniques” to me. Speaking of which, why no mention of fresh pasta dough in either this book or Ratio? Seems an odd ommission for either book.

    As an aside, I am pleased to see that I’m not the only one who roasts green beans. I don’t get very fancy: oil, salt & pepper; I’ve found that almost all non-leafy vegetables are worth roasting.


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