Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, Simon & Schuster 2017, hardback $35.00, 462 pages
A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.
You may think you know what you’re doing in the kitchen. You don’t. But Samin Nosrat does and she can explain it brilliantly.
In reading this book, you’ll find yourself wiling away an afternoon on the couch learning how and when salt diffuses itself through food, that browning food actually creates acidic flavor compounds, and that you monitor heat by looking at the food, not the fuel.
Rather than making dietary judgments–we eat too much salt and fat, or acids rot your teeth–Nosrat approaches these ingredients as a cook–there is no flavor without them. And then as a scientist explaining how salt works to both make foods more moist and more dry. Or how fat is indispensable as a cooking medium, a main ingredient, and a seasoning. Or how acid in tomatoes will balance the sweetness of onions.
When you know how these basics work, you can use them to best advantage. After a thorough and good-natured discussion of kitchen science, Nosrat supplies recipes, but they are really starting points that prove her point. She suggests Pasta all Vongole, for example, to practice layering acids–cooking the clams in wine, and finishing with a squeeze of lemon and the crunch of toasted sourdough breadcrumbs.
But Nosrat is skeptical of recipes; she doesn’t view cooking as a linear process, but a circular one–connected like a spiderweb, “touch one part and the entire thing will quiver.” She views recipes as snapshots and being in the kitchen as reality. The book’s recipes include measurements for Classic Pumpkin Pie, Roman Egg Drop Soup, and Chicken with Lentil Rice, but Nosrat also includes salsa math, a vegetable cooking matrix, and a pasta sauce family tree that encourage you to cook intuitively.
You need to riff on the recipe, tweaking a measurement, adjusting a cooking time, swapping an ingredient, all based on your kitchen, your palate, and your application of salt, fat, acid, and heat. Let the music begin!