Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I haven't said anything in this blog about Michael Ruhlman yet, so now is the time. I was first introduced to his books with Charcuterie, a book my Dad bought and had made a few terrines and prosciuttos from. I like Ruhlman's approach to food - good ingredients, knowing the basics of how they work, and then making stunning but simple things out of them, with that 'i've made this from scratch and it's shit hot, eh?' effect.

I've subscribed to his blog, and I love his recipes and photos. Mostly the photos, they truly are food porn. The photo of his sliced duck prosciutto... I stared at it for a good 10 minutes. Then I went and did something else, and then I came back and stared at it some more.

I bought Ruhlman's latest book, Ratio, and have gobbled up each of its lovingly-written pages. Ruhlman really loves food and cooking, and that visceral feeling of getting your hands in it, that you never get from buying pre-made dishes.

Ratio is a fantastic book, and it's not one of those glossy, flip through and gaze and the beautiful images cookbooks full of gratingly arrogant photos of the chef, the chef and his blonde-haired children frolicking on the beach, the chef and his wife mid-embrace, presumably overtaken with passion after devouring one of his mind-blowing creations, the chef and his butcher friend blah blah blah kind of cookbooks. Sorry to digress, but I have to get you to understand what kind of annoying cookbook this is not.

Ratio is a text. Ratio must be read, not just looked at. It reduces the most simple recipe forms, for example bread, pasta, pancake, stock, mayonnaise, to simple, remember-able ratios that form the basis of cookery. And once you know those ratios, you can use them to make so many things. It's a simple concept but takes a bit of dedication and patience to get your head around. But it instantly wins people over. I was reading it on the tram and a young junkie couple (I know they were junkies because they were talking about how they had just had a good hit and couldn't remember what they'd done for the past 5 hours) asked me what I was reading. I explained it to them, and they were hooked on the idea. 'It's great that you are so into cooking' they said. When they got off the tram they bid me farewell and hoped I cooked some good dishes from my new book. Everyone I've told about it has been intrigued.

But does it work? Well yes, it does! I made another sweet potato Irish soda bread the other day, but this time without a recipe, just using the bread ratio instead. 5:3 / flour:liquid. I used 5 parts wholemeal flour to 3 parts buttermilk, a tablespoon of baking powder, and a mashed sweet potato. Mixed up into a dough and then into the oven for a hour and you have a bread-without-thinking bread. Wonderful.

Tonight I tried the mayonnaise, in preparation for dinner. I will serve it with a bit of salmon fillet and some steamed vegetables.

The ratio for mayonnaise is 20 parts oil to 1 part water (plus yolk).

Apparently, the water is the most important factor in the mayonnaise not breaking, not the yolk! I did not know that.

(From Ratio by Michael Ruhlman)

1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon water
2 teaspoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 cup vegetable oil (I used light olive oil)

Whisk together all ingredients except oil in large bowl.

Add a little oil to the mix, whisk well, and then keep whisking and adding the oil bit by bit.

The mayonnaise is finished when all the oil is incorporated and it is a thick, viscous glob.

Using this method, I didn't think it came even close to breaking. Easy as!

(If it does break, Ruhlman recommends starting with a clean bowl with a teaspoon of water in it, and whisking the broken mayonnaise into it bit by bit, until it comes together again.)

I added a bit of cracked pepper and 1 clove of crushed garlic.

A wonderful thing about Ruhlman's writing is that he de-bunks ideas of things you think are much easier to get from the supermarket. This mayonnaise does not taste a thing like supermarket mayonnaise, it is something else. But it's not difficult either. It just requires a more hands-on approach to feeding yourself. And I think, if you've got your finger on the pulse of everything you put into you, you are much more likely to be healthy and content.

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