The more that I study why and how people cook at home, the more that I understand the importance of a book such as Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking (Scribner, 2009). Noted food writer Michael Ruhlman lays out a simple premise: If you understand the fundamental ratios for some basic culinary tasks ranging from biscuits to stock to vinaigrette, the less a cook has to rely on recipes. After all, the same formula lies behind simple oil and vinegar dressing and the fancy raspberry balsamic fig concoction that you’re shelling out good cash for at the supermarket.
I’m not anti-recipe by any means. But less confident cooks often become enslaved to recipes, in part due to fear of “messing up” dishes with even minute substitutions. Learning to cook via ratio provides a tremendous amount of freedom and economy in the kitchen, never a bad thing.
Why it’s important: Embracing the concept of ratios and taking risks provides in cooking may feel intimidating at first, but can yield a greater sense of freedom, power and efficiency. Taking the time to internalize a basic technique is the first step in finding the confidence to vary on it based on what you’ve got on hand.