“Salt Fat Acid Heat — Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” by Samin Nosrat (Simon and Schuster, 462 pages, $35).
Hundreds of cookbooks are published each year. Some are good. Others are e,xceptional. A few are essential. Samin Nosrat just published “Salt Fat Acid Heat — Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” and I daresay this one is essential.
Cookbooks are laden with recipes — with that information we should be able to make dishes turn out well, right? The efforts we put into transforming recipes into flavorful dishes can sometimes feel like a waste of time. Foods that looked wonderful on the page don’t always turn out as we might have expected.
It really helps if we actually understand how to cook. That’s the fabulous thing about this book — it teaches readers about cooking, how to employ various techniques, and how to grasp that any subtle variations in technique can have significant impacts upon our end results. It is possible to learn how to cook great food.
As a child, Nosrat enjoyed the Persian dishes her family prepared. While attending college she had a meal at what is considered to be the best restaurant in America, Chez Panisse. That experience changed her life. She applied for a job there. As she observed and participated in the cooking taking place, she had a revelation. In the introduction to her book she reveals her realization that “anyone can cook anything and make it delicious.”
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She explains, “there are only four basic factors that determine how good your food will taste: salt, which enhances flavor; fat, which amplifies flavor and makes appealing textures possible; acid, which brightens and balances; and heat, which ultimately determines the texture of the food.”
After we fully comprehend that salt, fat, acid and heat are “the four cardinal directions of cooking,” we are ready to transform recipes and/or products of our own imaginations into appetizing dishes. We can build the confidence to cook on the fly while using the best ingredients available at the time, to improvise, to experiment, to really savor our flavor adventures.
She goes into depth in each section — we delve into the science of what she is doing. For example, we learn about “the Maillard reaction, heat’s most significant contribution to flavor.” When we employ acids in cooking the Maillard reaction can produce sour flavors. When we are using heat it will create savory scents and new textures.
“Salt Fat Acid Heat — Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” contains an abundance of material written in an approachable manner while remaining informative. Oh, and it is also filled with tempting recipes. Now that I feel hopeful that I have absorbed her food science and techniques, I’m ready to embark on culinary expeditions. First I’ll try out her recipe for slow-roasted salmon. This book is bound to become an indispensable addition to cookbook shelves throughout America.