The number of cooks who have trouble navigating the world of weights and measures amaze me. Experience cooks often ask, “How many quarts in a gallon?” What I regard as elementary easily stumps seasoned cooks. While I don’t expect him to recite the number of teaspoons in a gallon (there are 768 teaspoons), he must understand the relationship between pounds and ounces and the various units of dry and liquid measure.
- 16 ounces in a pound
- 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon
- 16 tablespoons in a cup
- 2 cups in a pint
- 4 cups or 2 pints in a quart
- 4 quarts or eight pints in a gallon
Baking steamed rice in the oven will serve as an illustration of culinary math skills. At Oakland Feather River Camp, long grain white (or brown) rice is measured into the standard 12 by 20 by 4-inch hotel pan. The cook measures four pints of rice into each greased pan. (The pint measure is used because it’s handy.) The cook doubles the volume of rice to figure out the amount of boiling water to pour into the pan. At this point, the cook shifts to a half-gallon measure, mainly for efficiency.
To determine the number of half-gallon measures of water, the cook must understand that there are four pints or eight cups in the measure before proceeding. There are two cups in a pint. Since the cook previously measured four pints of rice into the pan, he multiplies four times two (in his head). The product is eight cups. He then doubles that number for 16 cups of boiling water. (I instruct the cooks to use a half-gallon measure because it safer to handle when handling boiling water.)
Sixteen cups divided by two is eight. Thus the cook adds two half-gallon pitchers of water to the rice in each pan. The rice is seasoned with salt and butter, then covered with plastic wrap and a hotel pan lid. It’s baked in a 325-degree convection oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender.
Admittedly, this explanation of preparing steamed rice is long. It takes more time to explain the process than to bake the rice! But it serves as an example of how culinary math finds its way into the kitchen. This is basic math to be sure, but it’s an essential skill. Too little water and the rice is dry and crunchy. Too much and you end up with a soggy mess.
There are a number of applications for math in the kitchen. I've addressed baker’s math previously on ‘Round the Chuckbox. The science of adjusting recipes is a crucial skill for the cook as well. I’ll have more to say in a later article.
In the meantime, let’s mind our pints and quarts!