I don’t do it often, but I like cooking. Actually, I cook almost every day, but rarely cook with a capital C. My mother taught me the basics, and I appreciate not only good food, but the company that generally goes with it. When a close friend took a cooking class and shared some of the science behind what makes an excellent meal versus a mediocre one, I was fascinated.
In looking for more in-depth information than is normally in a cookbook, I came across the bestseller and multiple-award-winner Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin NosratSamin Nosrat, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 2017. The timing of my discovery was not coincidental. Nosrat’s Netflix series by the same name had recently premièred, in October 2018.
I knew there was a small Jewish connection to the book – author and food expert Michael Pollan had written the foreword. But then, the same friend who inspired my interest in the technical aspects of cooking told me she thought the illustrator might be Jewish. And, she was right! Wendy MacNaughton – whose clients include the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Bon Appetit, Gastronomica and many others, including Simon & Schuster – is Jewish. (With a name like Ramsay, I should have looked into it further right away; next time, I will.) With this added information, I could easily justify asking for a review copy from the publisher, and did.
Salt Fat Acid Heat is not a cookbook that you just pop open, pick a recipe and make it, though you could do that. There are plenty of recipes for salads, pasta, fish, chicken, meat, sweets and more. Shaved carrot salad with ginger and lime, garlicky green beans, beer-battered fish (which also contains vodka, apparently), and fresh ginger and molasses cake are top of my list to try. There are a couple hundred pages of recipes, plus some suggested menus, chefs and authors to look for online or in books, a four-page bibliography, an index and an illustrated list of kitchen and pantry essentials.
In this latter part of the cookbook, there is also a Cooking Lessons section based on the enormous amount of information Nosrat imparts in the first 200 pages about salt, fat, acid and heat. So, for example, to put what you learned about seasoning from within (salt), make spicy brined turkey breast; about emulsions (fat), pasta Alfredo; about layering acid, balsamic vinaigrette; and about preserving tenderness (heat), some scrambled eggs. Other lessons focus on timing, knife skills and improvising with leftovers.
What makes this cookbook a must-have for foodies and cooks of any level, is not only the detail into which Nosrat goes about the four elements that make for good cooking, but that, in discussing the details, she communicates and almost transfers her love of and excitement about food and cooking to the reader. It’s hard to read this book and not be tempted to head to the store to buy the umpteen types of salt that exist (who knew?) or a selection of olive oils to taste, to the market for the freshest of fruits and vegetables, or to the butcher for the best cuts of meat.
Nosrat is all about the experience of cooking – taste and taste again, and don’t be afraid to experiment. As Pollan writes in the foreword, “Even though it contains plenty of excellent recipes, this is a book concerned foremost with principles…. Master these principles, [Nosrat] promises, and you will be able to cook delicious food of any kind, in any tradition, whether a salad dressing or braise or a galette.”
The full-colour illustrations are critical to what makes Salt Fat Acid Heat such an incredible resource and enjoyable read. From drawings of things that don’t lend themselves easily to depiction, such as grains of salt, a chemical reaction and saffron, to making tables, charts, Venn diagrams, frying instructions, etc., more fun and easy to understand, MacNaughton helps Nosrat explain the art and science of cooking.
The size and weight of Salt Fat Acid Heat is daunting, until you open it. As Nosrat writes about how to use the book, “Pay attention to the techniques, the science and stories, but don’t worry too much about committing it all to memory. Come back again later to revisit the concepts that are relevant to you.” But, most importantly, she emphasizes, “Don’t forget to enjoy the pleasures, both small and large, implicit to cooking and eating with people you love!”