Read this cookbook: “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” by Samin Nosrat (Simon & Schuster, $35)
By Wendell Brock
Samin Nosrat began as a kitchen amateur.
After a memorable meal at Chez Panisse, she wrote Alice Waters begging for a job as a busser. In a Cinderella stroke, the floor manager hired her on the spot.
Thus began her immersion into the finer points of food and, eventually, a stint teaching Michael Pollan how to cook.
Right off the bat, a pattern emerged and, over time, a guiding philosophy.
As she writes in her first book, “There are only four basic factors that determine how good your food will taste: salt, which enhances flavor; fat, which amplifies flavor and makes appealing textures possible; acid, which brightens and balances; and heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food.”
With charm, spunk and rigor, she follows the “crumb trail of kitchen science,” offering an in-depth explication of her four basic pillars, then moving on to the recipes.
Her style is delightful and accessible, and if you ever want to learn a lot about salt, fat, acid or heat, I suggest you burrow down with this book for a serious consultation. Or as Nosrat suggests, read it all from beginning to end, then put it to work.
While the volume contains recipes written in standard format (Vietnamese Cucumber Salad, Chicken Pot Pie, Chocolate Midnight Cake), I love the way Nosrat suggests ideas, recommendations and variations. She has a real knack for encapsulating information: how to approach a food group, or break down a chicken, or concoct a diversity of smooth soups and garnishes. (Incidentally, there are no photos in this book, but Wendy MacNaughton’s illustrations are fun, inspired and oftentimes do what words can’t.)
“Four Things to Do With Fruit,” for instance, suggests you Juice It and Make Granita; Poach It in Wine; Roast it on a Bed of Fig Leaves; or Make Compote. How cool is that? I can’t wait to practice “How To Get to the Heart of an Artichoke,” or brush up on my “Salsa Math.” This book has plentiful of teachable moments, and just the right tone to do cooks of all levels a world of good.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).