This Book Will Help You Learn to Cook Anything—Kinda

In Michael Ruhlman's new book, "From Scratch," 10 recipes provide the home cook with a delicious education on how to cook most anything.

December 10, 2019

Years after publishing his tome on homemade charcuterie, prolific writer Michael Ruhlman was still thinking and writing a lot for his loyal, DIY community (even launching an app for his meat-curious readers to connect). In June 2009, he blogged about how a home cook might approach salting and drying a pancetta at home, and some recommended applications for said pancetta—one of them a BLT. As is common among excited home cooks—and the most excitable of them all, online users—the comment section quickly snowballed from pancetta looks like bacon, why not just make bacon?, to I have lettuce and tomatoes growing in my garden right now, to BRB, making a BLT from scratch.

And so, Michael posted an official challenge to all of his readers: to make a BLT from scratch in one day. Hundreds of submissions poured in. Most notably, a letter from 10-year-old Emma Kate Smith, who successfully completed the challenge (relying on dad only to light the smoker and handle the meat slicer). This brought Michael—as it would anyone!—to happy, proud tears. This was living, edible proof that from-scratch cooking is not only accessible, but empowering.

A decade after the BLT challenge, Michael is still committed to the home cook's experience and education. His new book, From Scratch, demonstrates something all home cooks already know, but perhaps haven't yet put into words: good cooking and eating does not start and end with recipes, but rather, happens in the spaces between recipes. Ingredient substitutions, or improvisations on technique, get spurred by cravings demanding to be addressed, or, more often, the unending race to beat fridge rot.

The book is structured around 10 recipes that each feature an important set of basic techniques; mastery of these 10 recipes will get the beginning cook pretty, impressively far. Next time you find yourself overwhelmed by market glut (and your utter lack of a plan), meditate on one of these charts until the culinary muse strikes.

Hand lettering by Deb Wood; text by Michael Ruhlman.

For example, Michael's chart on curry. Think less "genealogy," more "how will one meal inform the next (and what are the taste-visions that tide you over between)?" Above, Michael uses the dish—whether its spice blends, pounded pastes, or technique of blooming spices—as a (delicious) excuse to talk about ghee and the perfect pot of rice.

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Top Comment:
“People who might really need a book like this won’t be able to get past the, ahem, clever printing”
— mudd

In the chart below, Michael shows that roasting a chicken leaves the home cook with jus; and that jus is just a very remedial chicken stock, and chicken stock an intro to chicken noodle soup. Track this progression in your own kitchen with our co-founder, Amanda and Merrill's, best roast chicken with pan sauce, this chicken stock, and this noodle soup.

Hand lettering by Deb Wood; text by Michael Ruhlman.

Though separated by time and space, physical page or digital forum, there’s something really special about tracking the delight Michael takes in food: In the way a hot, dry oven transforms chicken skin, then a similar, but different magic on brussels sprouts; how pozole verde and paella never fail to incite celebratory feelings. His faith that if you've tried whisking pâte à choux for profiteroles, then churros, you’ve proven to have the stomach and heart (and arm) for meringue.

Did you participate in the BLT challenge? (Will you now?) Tell us in the comments.

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Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.

1 Comment

mudd December 19, 2019
People who might really need a book like this won’t be able to get past the, ahem, clever printing