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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Salt Fat Acid Heat

After finishing Tuesday's review, I thought it would be perfect to pair with this book, from one of Alice Waters' former employees of Chez Panisse. This book is, hands down, brilliant. I don't own a lot of cookbooks because I love to experiment in the kitchen, but when I read about Samin Nosrat's Salt Fat Acid Heat, I preordered it. It was worth every stinkin' dime.

Cooking is an art form, and some people love it while others can't stand it. I am in the category of "love it." I am no expert by any means, but I love to mess around in the kitchen and I joke around that recipes are against my religion. I am Italian, after all. Nosrat's whole concept with this book is that these four elements (salt, fat, acid, heat) are the main underpinnings of good cooking that you need to understand both in theory and practice to create dishes that will serve your palate. Amateurs in the kitchen are usually afraid of everything but heat, but fear of salt, fat, and acid will leave you with limp and unappetizing food.

This book is astounding because it is a cookbook, yes, but it is also a journey through the basics of cooking that are easy to understand yet so deep and thoughtful. I am madly in love with this book for so many reasons, not the least of which are the illustrations, by Wendy MacNaughton. Holy hell, they are gorgeous. Everything from colors of cooked onions to wheels explaining how to get the regional taste that you want, this book is so gorgeous it's hard to put it on the shelf. I'm not kidding you -- it's currently open to that very page with the caramelized onions on my coffee table right now. One of my favorite pages is right before the section of recipes (which is actually the last half of the book), there is a flow chart that helps you determine what you want to cook that day. The first question asks if you've read the book, and if you select "no," it tells you to go back and read the book because it's about the journey, not the destination. Boy, is she ever right.

I read this book slowly and in sections so that I could start putting into practice what I was reading. I started with salt, because it's the first section. I opened myself up to what Nosrat was explaining about how to use salt and how to get away from our fear of using too much, and it improved my cooking -- especially with meats -- almost instantaneously. It turns out I already had multiple types of salt in my kitchen, and I was able to distinguish what to use and when to use it. Eye opening doesn't even begin to describe it. Now I use salt liberally and, more importantly, appropriately.

Then fat. Sweet, sweet fat. It's another element that scares new cooks, because anyone who was alive in the 1980's has a deep-seated fear of fat. In the past few years I have come to realize how great it is -- and not just in taste -- and I now can taste a (disgusting) difference in full-fat and low- or non-fat products. I now no longer fear butter and cream, and it's made such a big difference in our dinners. I learned how to render fat, how to take advantage of excess fat on meat, how to better cook bacon, and how to balance salt, fat, and the next ingredient, acid, into our meals. Fat is glorious when used (here it is again) appropriately.

Finally, last but never least, is acid. Holy mother of pearl, I had no idea what I was missing in my life. Much like Nosrat's discovery of what acid could do to add volume and depth to a dish, neither did I. It turns out that acid is a vital component for this purpose, and you are missing out if you don't take the time to play around and figure out how to finish off your dishes with the appropriate form of acid. I added apple cider vinegar to finish off my cauliflower soup -- what a difference from before and after! I then began experimenting with my sauteed spinach, and I discovered that squeezing fresh lime juice over the finished product added a new dimension to something that I liked before but that I love now. I decided to get a whole slew of vinegars the next time I grocery shopped, and thanks to Nosrat's section on acids, I now feel comfortable and inspired to experience with something that I previously thought would ruin a dish.

Oh wait -- let's not forget heat! See, my mom is amazing but it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that she never taught me to cook very well. She learned on her own, as did I, but she came from a tradition that opened cans for dinner. (1950's and '60's, anyone?) I will say that I discovered I have been using heat inappropriately for YEARS. The section on heat really opened my (impatient) eyes to how to slow down my cooking and take advantage of different ways to use heat to cook.

When I picked up this book, I didn't realize that Nosrat was the cook who worked with Michael Pollan on cooking when he was writing one of my favorite books on food, Cooked. It was really wonderful to see the connection between my favorite food writers. No matter how I came to it, this book will remain one of my all time favorites and I am so, so glad that I splurged on purchasing it. Now that I am incorporating our son into our meal times (we skipped purees and have gone strait to eating what we eat -- I'm sure this will come up again in the Sassy Peachiverse someday), I love that I have new tools in my arsenal to play around with flavors. Thank you, Samin, from the bottom of my heart, for this glorious tome you have given the world. 

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