Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (Book Review)

“An exhaustively researched treatise on the four pillars of successful cooking.” (New York Times Book Review)

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat is a book about the elements of good cooking. The book teaches the fundamentals, which you can use later in all your cooking. So, throw out the recipes and become a chef yourself. That is the bold claim, and I think Samin follows through. Here are my notes on the book.

Salt

  • Tasting is one of the most important things you’re doing in the kitchen
  • Salt can help prevent dishes from becoming flat
  • Salt can be administered as …uhh… salt, cheese, olives, capers, etc
  • Salt is a mineral: sodium chloride (one of the essential ones we can’t live without)
  • All salt is from the sea (rock salt is just that from ancient lakes, which lay under the ground nowadays)
  • The primary role salt plays in cooking is t amplify the flavour
  • With home-cooked meals, don’t worry about adding too much (unless otherwise indicated by your doctor)
  • Salt has its own taste and enhances the flavour of other ingredients
  • Different types of salt:
    • Table salt: very dense, probably with iodine (which is good but gives metallic taste)
    • Kosher salt: very pure salt, that comes in different sizes
    • Sea salt: use the expensive kind (fleur de sel) only when the flavour will pop out

 

  • We can perceive 5 tastes: saltiness, sourness, bitterness, sweetness, and umami (savouriness)
  • Aroma is what our nose perceives (thousands of chemicals)
  • Flavour lies on the intersection of taste, aroma, and sensory elements like texture, sound, appearance, and temperature
  • Salt affects both taste and flavour
  • Anything that heightens flavour is a seasoning
    • Season (salt) food from within

 

  • Salt reduces our perception of bitterness (even better than sugar does)
  • Salt enhances sweetness

 

  • Salt moves through food via osmosis and diffusion
    • Osmosis: the movement of water in and out of a cell wall (towards the saltier side)
    • Diffusion: the movement of salt through a cell wall until it’s evenly distributed (this is a slower process)
  • Salt meats in advance, to give it plenty of time to diffuse
  • Salt seafood only 15 minutes before prepping
  • Salt doesn’t dissolve in fat, but luckily most fats contain some water
  • Add a pinch of salt to eggs you will scramble, etc
    • Lightly season water for poaching eggs
    • Season eggs cooked in the shell or fried in a pan just before serving
  • Salt assists in weakening pectin (an undigestible carbohydrate) in vegetables
    • (in general) Salt vegetables before cooking them
    • Toss vegetables with salt and olive oil before roasting
    • Salt blancing water generously before adding vegetables
    • Add salt into the pan for sautéing
    • Season vegetables with large, watery, cells (e.g. tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines) 15 minutes before grilling/roasting
    • Salt mushrooms only when they are already starting to become brown
  • Salt legumes and beans when you soak or cook them
  • Salt bread dough early (it’s low in water, so it dissolves slowly)

 

  • When cooking food in water, add enough salt
    • Because of the need for equilibrium, nutrients will stay in the greens
    • This will enhance flavour (duh) and make greens look greener
    • It also allows for quicker cooking (weakened pectins)
    • Salt water for cooking so that it tastes like sea water (i.e. a lot)
    • Taste the water to make sure it’s highly seasoned before you add any food
    • Cooking food in salted water is one of the simplest ways to season from within
  • Measuring salt is done by taste
    • And with experience
    • And probably more than you’re used to
    • Take about 1% of weight for vegetables and grains
    • And 2% salinity for water for cooking

 

  • Salt doesn’t necessarily mean you need to use pepper too
    • And if you do, grind it just before you use pepper
  • Salt can be used in conjunction with sugar
    • E.g. with a lovely dessert
  • If you add too much salt, then:
    • Dilute, add unseasoned ingredients
    • Halve, and put away the rest for later
    • Balance, with acid or fat
    • Select, other things to balance the saltiness
    • Transform, into something that work with more salt
    • Admin defeat…
  • Stir, taste, adjust
  • Ask yourself: When? How much? In what form?

 

Fat

  • Where oilive oil comes from has a huge effect on how it tastes
    • Oil from hot, dry, hilly areas is spicy
    • From coastal climates is milder in flavour
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