Samin Nosrat’s love affair with cooking may read like a fairy tale, but her approach to good cooking has less to do with magic than it does with science. Learn the four basic elements or “cardinal directions”, Samin says, and you’ll find your way to dishes that satisfy as much as they delight. Her first book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, distills lessons learned in 15 years of cooking (Samin got her start at Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse), teaching and writing about food, here in an approachable, richly illustrated guide that encourages readers to be curious, have fun and taste (and taste again!) along the way.
“This book will change the way you think about cooking and eating, and help you find your bearings in any kitchen, with any ingredients, while cooking any meal,” Samin says. “You’ll start using recipes, including the ones in this book, like professional cooks do — for the inspiration, context, and general guidance they offer, rather than by following them to the letter.”
The first half is devoted to the four elements, followed by recipes, suggested menus and a list of trusted sources on everything from inspiring food writing to general cooking and baking. Peppered throughout are colourful illustrations and helpful charts and diagrams by Wendy MacNaughton that effectively recap and map each lesson, from a Salting Calendar (“a friendly reminder of when to salt your food”) to The World of Fat (a wheel showing which fats to use for dishes from each area of the world) to How to Get to the Heart of an Artichoke. It’s accessible but dense, something best read front to back in a number of sittings to digest (pun intended).
I tried three recipes, starting with the Pasta alla Pomarola, a basic tomato sauce served over spaghetti, bucatini, penne or rigatoni. I’ll confess I followed it to the letter, counting out the 16 fresh basil leaves suggested for the sauce, and salting the pasta water more generously than I would have otherwise (Samin says it should taste like the summer sea). The result: a wonderfully aromatic and flavourful sauce I could happily lop up straight from the pot.
And I was so proud of the Classic Apple Pie! Samin’s All-Butter Pie Dough made a remarkably flaky and flavourful crust and the Fuji apples inside kept their shape. It’s a sweeter apple pie than I’ve ever made and I might experiment a little next time by cutting back on the sugar, but as-is it’s just delicious (for dessert and breakfast too).
These little clouds are Samin’s Marshmallowy Meringues, sweet and light little bites with a little bit of chew. We ate them just like this but the suggested variations sound incredible — from the Pavlovas with scented cream and fruit compote to the chocolate-caramel meringue fool with salted caramel sauce and caramel cream.
Samin has travelled and cooked around the globe and brings a world of flavours to her readers by sharing fundamental lessons that can be applied to foods enjoyed by a wide range of cultures — French, Japanese, American, Persian, and Italian, to name a few. Suggested menus include a Flavourful Moroccan Feast (with Moroccan Kofta Kebabs and Harissa, Charmoula and Herbed Yogurt); a Make-Your-Own-Taco Party (with Pork Braised with Chillies and Warm Tortillas and Mexican-ish Herb Salsa); and A Perfectly Balanced Thanksgiving (with Spatchcocked Thanksgiving Turkey and Pumpkin Pie with Tangy Whipped Cream).
For anyone fumbling around the kitchen in the dark, Samin Nosrat sheds a light. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking is an invaluable resource for new cooks, home cooks, and anyone who wants to learn the how and why of good cooking.
Simon & Schuster Canada sent me Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.