If you have never heard of Samin Nosrat, she is a hilarious chef who wrote the book Salt Fat Acid Heat. This book is basically the only “textbook” you’ll ever need to cook amazing food for the rest of your life. Samin explains different cooking methods in a simple yet comprehensive way. The book also includes delicious recipes to put learning into practice and solidify all the lessons. I studied this book like it was the most important course (because it’s food, duh). And I made about a number of recipes from the book to implement the lessons I learned from Salt Fat Acid Heat. Here’s a look at what I learned as well as the delicious food I made (thanks to Samin!)
Lessons about Salt
Lesson 1: Seasoning/Salting from Within
To solidify the importance of this salting from within, I made Pasta with Broccoli and Bread Crumbs. Salting the water that I cooked the pasta and broccoli in elevated the flavor of the whole dish. For once, the pasta didn’t taste like empty carbs – it actually tasted like the delicious dough it was made of! The flavor of the broccoli wasn’t the harsh, bitter flavor I hated as a kid – it was fresh and flavorful in the best of ways. If I hadn’t salted the water to cook the pasta and broccoli, the dish would have tasted flat and boring.
Lesson 2: Layering Salt
Before reading this book, I didn’t have a clue that salt could be layered. What this “layering salt” magic means is that while you are cooking something, whether it be a sauce or a full dish, you should constantly taste as you add ingredients and adjust the salt throughout the entire process. Don’t just add salt at the very end when it hits your dinner table, because the salt only sits on the food, instead of being imbued into the whole dish. I tasted frequently as I made the Caesar Salad Dressing from the book. And let me tell you, I have never had a Caesar salad that was so perfectly balanced, thanks to adding salt bit by bit in the forms of anchovies, salt, and parmesan.
Lessons about Fat
Lesson 3: Emulsions
I took the utmost care to create an incredibly thick and rich mayo from emulsifying a single egg yolk and ¾ cup of olive oil. It created a delicious and structured base for my Caesar Salad Dressing! My mayo had this interesting green tint to it since I used olive oil. This looked very different from the snow-white jars stacked on the grocery shelves. But it tasted a-mayo-zing.
Lesson 4: Layering Fat
I had no clue that “layering fat” was even a thing, other than the atrocity that is bacon-wrapped food…
Now, I must confess. I didn’t make any of the three recipe options from this particular lesson. I didn’t make the blue cheese dressing, because it sounds yummy, but it requires a lot of dairy that my tummy wouldn’t be able to handle, if ya know what I mean. There’s only so much Lactaid one human can take in a day. That also caused the bittersweet chocolate pudding to get vetoed, thanks to the THREE CUPS OF HALF AND HALF. The beer-battered fish with tartar sauce was also a no-go, because I hate beer. But there were eight other amazing lessons I learned from Salt Fat Acid Heat so I’m okay with skipping one for now. 🙂
Lessons about Acid
Lesson 5: Layering Acid
The Caesar Salad Dressing taught me not only how to layer salt, but also how to layer acidity. The zing from the lemon juice and the kick from the vinegar balanced the salty and umami flavors of the rest of the ingredients. It also helped to brighten and lighten the dressing. Without layering acidity, it would have felt too heavy and fatty from all my (homemade, thank you) mayonnaise.
Lessons about Heat
Lesson 6: Layering Heat
For the final lesson on layering, I made Chicken with Lentil Rice. Incredible textures and flavors were achieved by using different types of heat. The most important part of this whole meal is to wrap the lid of the Dutch oven in a towel. Why? Because the towel will absorb the steam from the rice and not allow the steam to drop back onto the chicken, which would cause it to be soggy and gross.
Hot and Fast Heat – Brown the chicken with a crispy texture and deeper flavor.
Medium and Slow Heat – Simmer the lentils until they are al dente and flavorful.
Low and Slow Heat – Caramelize the onions into sweet and tender morsels.
Medium and Fast Heat – Toast the rice for extra depth of flavor.
Low and Slow Heat – Cook the rice and meld all the flavors together, while cooking the chicken all the way through.
Lesson 7: Browning
I made one of the most delicious-sounding recipes in this entire book – Finger-Lickin’ Pan-Fried Chicken. Yum. I mean, who doesn’t want something so tasty that you are driven to lick your own body?
The first batch of chicken schnitzel turned out deliciously saturated in butter, with the bread crumb/cheese coating crispy and evenly golden brown.
The second batch of chicken that went in the pan went a different direction. All the melted butter in the skillet had disappeared! It had been happily soaked up by the first chicken pieces. I neglected to read the part of the instructions that said “add more butter to the pan as necessary.” So I essentially cooked the unsuspecting second batch chicken pieces on dry heat. I’ll tell you right now, they did not get golden and crispy, but more like unevenly crunchy in some areas and just blah in other areas. Holding the pieces side-by-side really showcased the importance of butter (or another medium of fat to evenly transfer heat) when browning food.
Lesson 8: Preserving Tenderness
My Finger-Lickin’ Pan-Fried Chicken experience drilled this lesson into my brain. Using enough butter (or other fat) when cooking will preserve meat’s tenderness. The chicken I cooked on dry heat was a lot tougher and chewier. And it got even tougher when I ate it for leftovers, because it didn’t have that layer of a butter-soaked coating to preserve its tenderness and juiciness. In fact, this wasn’t even the first time I forgot to add enough fat to my chicken schnitzel… I’ll learn eventually!
Lesson 9: Turning Tough Into Tender
Last but not least, I learned how to turn tough foods like fibrous broccoli into a tender and delicious side dish. Instead of boiling or steaming broccoli, this recipe for Spicy Broccoli Rabe with Ricotta Salata called for cooking it in olive oil with browned onions for about 20 to 30 minutes. The stems, which normally people discard, were just as tender and delicious as the florets!
Side note: the recipe calls for broccoli rabe, but I couldn’t find that in the grocery store, so I used broccolini instead. Still delicious. Of course, anything coated in cheese is drool-worthy.
That’s it! These are all the lessons I learned from Salt Fat Acid Heat, an informative, artistic, hilarious and creative cookbook. If I have one major takeaway from this book (and binge watching Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix…) it’s the importance of tasting constantly as you cook. It’s critical to adjust the “layers” of salt, fat and acid and pay attention to different types of heat, until you find the perfect balance of flavors and textures that sings to you. Yes, it’s that poetic. If you get a chance to read this book, let me know your biggest take-aways and favorite recipes! <3