What separates a real cook from someone who simply follows recipes?
It’s more than experience.
It’s more than simply knowing a canon of recipes by heart.
It’s more than using the best quality ingredients.
According to Samin Nosrat, real cooks know how to use the four basic elements of cooking -- salt, fat, acid, and heat. She believes that if you understand how these elements work together, you can become adept at cooking any type of cuisine. In her New York Time bestselling book, SALT FAT ACID HEAT, Nosrat encourages novice cooks to attempt new things, trust their tongues, and not fear failure.
The tone of the book is friendly and warm, and Nosrat makes cooking seem like something everybody can and should do. Part recipe book, part cooking technique book, part kitchen chemistry book -- SALT FAT ACID HEAT turns cooking into an adventure.
Elements of Cooking: Salt
Salt is the often the biggest difference between fabulous cooking and dull, flavorless dishes. Yet many cooks hesitate to use this element of cooking. They aren't sure how much salt to add or when to add it.
Nosrat explains how salt amplifies the complex flavors of a dish, and how salt behaves when cooking meat, grains, legumes, eggs, and more. Nosrat describes how to salvage bland dishes and how to fix dishes that are too salty. After reading SALT FAT ACID HEAT, you will have the confidence to use salt to its greatest advantage in cooking.
Elements of Cooking: Fat
While many Americans are wary of fat, trying to cook delicious fare without fat is practically impossible. Fat carries complex flavors and alters textures in a meal. Without fat, food is much less delicious and satisfying.
Nosrat covers a lot of ground in this section of SALT FAT ACID HEAT. She talks about choosing between varieties of olive oil, matching the type of fat to the style of cuisine you are preparing, and the impact of fat on the flavor and texture of a dish. Nosrat encourages readers to stop fearing fat and start understanding how fat behaves in its various forms. Ultimately, this knowledge will help you use fat wisely, and perhaps even use less of it.
Elements of Cooking: Acid
Generally, people think of tangy, tart flavors when they consider acids in a recipe. Lemon juice, vinegar, yogurt, and pickles do add a zesty tang to a dish.
However, acids influence much more than just the flavor of a meal. The acid in buttermilk reacts with the alkalinity of baking soda to leaven scones. Acids lengthen the cooking time of vegetables, which explains why you should sauté onions before stirring them into tomatoes. Acids like cream of tartar or lemon juice create finer air pockets when whipping egg whites.
Using acids effectively in cooking is much more complicated than merely adding lemon juice to a vinaigrette. Nosrat explains in detail how acids affect chemical processes and balance flavors in dishes.
Elements of Cooking: Heat
Why do people grill beef steaks, but braise a chuck roast? Experienced cooks know that tender cuts of meat develop complex flavors when they are quickly browned. On the other hand, cooking a chuck roast low and slow helps break down tough muscle fibers and redistribute fat.
Frying, baking, roasting, simmering, toasting, and searing are all unique methods of applying heat to food. Each one yields distinctly different results. Nosrat discusses how certain categories of food behave when cooked in various ways. She also explains how to tell when a dish is done by using sensory cues.
Between Samin Nosrat’s approachable writing style and Wendy MacNaughton’s colorful and whimsical illustrations, SALT FAT ACID HEAT makes cooking accessible to all. The book includes several hundred basic recipes that are designed for improvisation to help you stop merely following recipes and learn to cook like an experienced chef.
As an avid farmer, gardener, and cook, April Freeman is an expert in the food production process. She raises pigs, chickens, beef cattle, and grows a wide variety of vegetables and fruits on her family farm in Tennessee. Learn more about April’s firsthand experience with farm-fresh food on her blog, Feeding My Family.