All the pictures in this blog post are pictures I took from my personal copy of Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. I am sharing them for informational purposes only, and they are not being shared for any financial gain.
I started cooking when I was still a kid. One of my earliest memories is helping my mom cut biscuits out of the dough with a glass. By the time I was in my teens, I would regularly cook full meals and complicated desserts for my family. In fact, I think my family might have actually grown tired of crème brûlée when I made it regularly for months. Over time, I started intuitively understanding the ways that ingredients reacted with each other in different cooking vessels at different heats.
My journey to culinary understanding took a leap forward when I got my first apartment and was responsible for keeping my own kitchen stocked on a grad student’s budget. My mother taught me to be thrifty when buying groceries, so that part was easy. The hard part was making sure I always had something interesting and delicious to eat when poor and living the grad school life (usually weird hours and never quite enough caffeine). So, I started experimenting with my recipe basics, finding economical ways to add twists to my favorites. I also discovered that a delicious dinner at home is a great, inexpensive date.
Once I graduated and found my first professional job, I kept researching and learning using newer gadgets and more expensive ingredients. Recently, I heard about a new book, one that explains not only cooking methods but also explores how ingredients, techniques, and even temperature affects how dishes turn out.
One night, I came across Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat. I decided to download a copy from the library, but found all the copies had been checked out. I had to settle for reading the available sample. I immediately fell in love. The next morning, I was waiting at the bookstore when they unlocked the doors and grabbed my very own copy to take home. That day, I read through the first 200 pages.
Experienced home cooks probably know a lot of what Samin covers in the first half of the book. While I learned plenty of new things from reading this book, it was thrilling to gain a vocabulary for the things I had learned over years of practice. I already knew that if my dishes tasted “off”, and I was having to add more seasonings, I could try a squeeze of lemon juice. Salt Fat Acid Heat points out that I was reaching for an acidic ingredient because “while salt enhances flavors, acid balances them.”
One of the greatest aspects of the cookbook is that Samin takes high-level culinary techniques and knowledge and makes it accessible to those who are inexperienced or who lack professional vocabulary. She freely shares the lessons she learned from her own mistakes, like the time she tried to save time by overfilling a pan with zucchini to roast in one of her first kitchen jobs. As she recounts, “I lived to regret this shortcut. When I went to rotate the trays, the packed zucchini was floating in a lake of its own juices…the first tray of squash emerged from the oven a sopping, soupy mess. I’d unwittingly made steamed zucchini soup.”
In order to drive the lessons home, Samin includes recipes that rely on the technique she was just explaining. While recipes do not teach you to cook, a well written recipe paired with an explanation of a specific technique will. The second half of the book is closer to a traditional cookbook with recipes, menu ideas, and introduction to basic as well as advanced techniques. However, she introduces the section with a warning that it will be ore meaningful after reading the first half of the book. It is obvious that Samin wants to help people learn to master the elements of good cooking, not just share a bunch of recipes and share some stories.
In addition to the methodologies and examples Samin explores throughout the book, she also gives ideas about how to properly improvise when cooking. She included charts that show the relationship between region and flavors. This is helpful if you want to improvise a recipe that invokes the flavors of a particular cuisine, like my own Curry Braised Fish. Two giant charts show how different fats and acids are foundational to regional cooking.
As useful and amazing as I found this particular “meta-cookbook” (as The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker classified it), it would be almost criminal to discuss Salt Fat Acid Heat without mentioning the illustrations. Samin’s approachable writing style is complimented by Wendy MacNaughton’s simple, yet beautiful watercolors. The deliberate decision to avoid photography to illustrate Samin’s lessons serves to convey concepts but prevent the reader from getting too bogged down in the minutia of the details. Not only are the illustrations informative, but they are also just plain beautiful.
Overall, I definitely have to say that this book is great for a new cooks or the experienced kitchen whiz. I can only wonder what sort of cook I would be if this book had been available when I was a teenager, experimenting on the captive audience that was my family. I encourage you get this book for anyone you know who wants to improve their culinary skills.
As part of my desire to share this book with others, I am running a competition: Amazing Braising is giving away a copy of Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. Simply like and share the Amazing Braising Facebook post announcing this contest, and you will be entered for a chance to win your own copy. Please note: I purchased the copy to give away. Amazing Braising is in no way affiliated with Samin Nosrat, Simon & Schuster, or any other publisher or retailer. You can find contest rules and disclaimers here.