DRMacIver's Notebook

The rule of three twos

The rule of three twos

In the last post I wrote about improvised cooking. Some people find this much easier than others. Here I thought I'd share a quick tip that usually makes it quite easy: the rule of three twos.

The rule is very simple: If you have three flavours, each pair of which works together, then the combination of the three can probably be made to work well and be interesting.

This works well for both food and drinks, and is often the basis for a good cocktail.

This was the basis of the recipe I made the other day, because cashews/apples/raisins was reasonably certain to work (I wasn't sure about cashews and apples, but cashews are such an innocuous flavour it seemed unlikely they wouldn't).

This is essentially the practical implication of the incompatible food triad problem: Even if such a triad exists, it's really hard to find it, so most things will work.

Of course, you can't just mix the three things together any which way and expect it to be great, but the rule gives you a good foundation because it lets you start from something that you can be pretty sure will work. This restricts the problem of making it great to:

  1. Figuring out the right proportions, especially which flavour you want to dominate (e.g. the fact that that recipe had much fewer raisins than the other ingredients, or figuring out the right quantity of spirit in a cocktail)
  2. Figuring out supporting flavours that you can use to accent or bridge the base three (e.g. salt and allspice in the above, bitters to add to a cocktail)

Not every good meal can be produced this way of course, but that's not the point. The rule lets you produce something reliably good without worrying too much about it, which is often a useful existence proof to have when doing improvised cooking, and gives you safe fallbacks if you don't feel like doing anything fancy.