Salt Fat Acid Heat

When I was in my mid twenties I started graduate school and at the same time I decided I wanted to learn how to cook. After deciding that, I happened upon a book called How to Cook Without a Book, a corny title, but that book taught me a lot about cooking and how to do it without a recipe for many of my go to standards now. The chicken soup I make today started with that book, the stir fry as well, along with the simplest preparations for a side of veggies for dinner. For years I recommended the book to people who told me they couldn’t learn to cook, because I think anyone can, start simple, and you can figure it out. I still own the book, it’s pages are ratty and crumpled from being spilled on and used so much, and while I don’t refer to it much, I’m attached to it.

Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat, with absolutely lovely illustrations by Wendy McNaughton, builds on How to Cook Without a Book. Nosrat’s goal is to get you to understand how the four elements in the title work and how you can then learn to create great meals, possibly without using a recipe one day. And the last half of the book does have recipes in it, but often times she suggests and encourages variations upon the main recipe, pushing you to think about what you like, what you want to make, and how you prefer to cook.

In the first half of the book Nosrat dives into each element to help you understand how it works with food, some of the science behind it all, so you can better know how to use any of the four in your own cooking. And while doing this, she crushes some of the myths that I grew up with and that I still have a hard time letting go of as I cook our meals. Salt is not bad and I’ll never, as a home cook, be in danger of increasing our sodium intake to dangerous levels, salt is bad in processed foods, but it’s necessary in cooking to bring out the flavors. And I knew very little about acid, I often threw in the vinegar or lemon juice at the end of soups and other things as recipes directed, but I didn’t really know what it was doing. Now I do.

When I finished reading through the entire book I realized that it would have a profound effect on the way I cook going forward. I want to make the recipes, but then also change them, play with them, taste as I go, and create things unique to what we prefer to eat. And if anyone says to me that they can’t cook, this will be the book I recommend they pick up to learn how. Cooking takes time and practice to do well. Almost twenty years after I decided to learn, I’m still learning. But when I make a fantastic dinner and sit with a candle lit and savor every bite, it’s worth all the effort.