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Ratio cooking is a method of food preparation based on the relationships of ingredient quantities to each other, rather than on the specific ingredient measurements commonly used in recipes. Instead of cups and tablespoons, or milliliters and cubic centimeters, ingredients used in ratio cooking are defined in “parts” that are relative to each other in quantity. For many foods prepared according to this cooking method, ingredients are portioned by weight rather than by volume. A scale is therefore needed for accurate measurement.
Ratio cooking may best be explained by example. A standard biscuit recipe might call for two cups of flour, four tablespoons of butter or shortening, and one cup of buttermilk, plus baking soda and salt. In ratio cooking terms, the ingredients would be defined as three parts flour, one part fat, and two parts liquid, plus baking soda and salt, or a ratio of 3:1:2. The main difference is that the ingredients must be weighed in ounces or grams, rather than measured in volume such as cups and tablespoons.
The theory behind this type of cooking is that it liberates a chef or home cook from the confines of recipes, making it possible to apply ratios to the preparation of any dish and use the formulas as a basis for creative variations. It also allows a cook to uniformly increase or decrease the yield of the recipe according to individual need. Ratio cooking may be applied to any dish, though it is especially useful for baking and sauces.
One of the leading authorities on ratio cooking is American chef and cookbook author Michael Ruhlman. In his book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, Ruhlman has distilled the ratio concept into 33 basic formulas. The book goes on to explain every aspect of this cooking method in detail. It also contains ratio-based recipes and possible for an extensive variety of both basic foods and classic dishes.
Despite the focus on ratio cooking as a recent trend in food preparation, it is not a new concept. A rudimentary version of this method has been used by home cooks for centuries. Cooks in ancient cultures and in developing nations today have estimated, eyeballed, and measured ingredients according to traditions that have been passed down from one generation to the next.
I have a cook book that outlines all of the recipes according to ratio cooking methods. I find it really helpful. In fact, a few of the recipes that I tried and liked I was able to make from memory after only a few preparations.
I have never been much of a cook and often struggle to get through traditional recipes. I can't tell you how many times I have used a tablespoon when I should have used a teaspoon. My mind just doesn't work like the average chefs. Ratio cooking has liberated me to go back into my kitchen.