As far as memorable meals go, there is one that happened about five years ago with my pal Barbara at Chien Noir in Kingston (Ontario) that really sticks in my mind. While it could possibly be the company (my pal is a superb conversationalist), what I remember about the meal is the dessert. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced! Simple ice cream but the cream had been infused with the flavour of butter popcorn. So incredible and completely unforgettable. The taste was bold, yet fleeting because I would savour spoonful after spoonful not quite believing until the bowl was empty. Even when our server explained the process the chef had used it still seemed like culinary magic! I would have never believed in a million years thatI could ever reproduce anything in my own kitchen that would taste that remarkable. And it wasn’t until I opened Samin Nosrat‘s Salt Fat Acid Heat that I started to believe that culinary magic is a skill that is taught and learned — anyone can be a great cook.
If you’re curious about Nosrat’s culinary pedigree she started her professional cooking life at the famed Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California. She then spent time and traveled the world learning more about cooking techniques, met Michael Pollan (who she took classes and learned a great deal from), and took over two decades writing this book. Part reference guide, part traditional recipe book, Salt Fat Acid Heat works to teach people how to become truly great cooks by understanding the basic underlying elements of cooking (which of course are salt — flavour enhancer, fat — carries flavour/builds texture, acid — balances flavours, and heat — the way to create textures). In some ways this photo-less book reminds me of The Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking but Nosrat and her artful illustrator, Wendy MacNaughton, have created playful and useful info-graphics to help pictorialize techniques, ingredients, and dishes. It’s also fair to point out, since many of you visit my site expecting vegetarian or vegan cookbooks, Salt Fat Acid Heat is really neither of those (there are sections on cooking meat) but I feel that this book looks to teach general elements of cooking which can be applied to any dietary preferences.
For those that follow me on social media you can see that I can cook (and fairly well I might add!); and I think I had gotten to a point that I thought I knew what there was to know about cooking because my food looked and tasted okay. What I’ve learned since opening Salt Fat Acid Heat is that there was still more to understand. The element I’ve really taken away from this incredible book is that part of becoming a truly great and skilled cook is to become more thoughtful. I am (almost) exclusively a cook-from-recipe home cook and from Nosrat I learned how to explore new techniques, trust my instincts and really enjoy the time I spend in the kitchen. So back to that memorable dinner…
It’s summer and corn is bountiful! My way of preparing it — steamed with salt and butter. Boring but it seems to be the way my husband and daughter enjoy it the best, until they saw the pile of corn that was de-kerneled sitting beside my big soup pot. There were complaints but I assured them that this recipe of Nosrat’s — Silky Sweet Corn Soup — would be worth the change. So I boiled up the cobs to make the stock, then heated the butter to cook the onions (which I cooked until blond). Blond? Something I had never heard of and never gave cooking onions much thought. But thought is needed with knowing how to cook/when to apply which technique and she left me feeling released from the notion that there is only one way to cook an onion — as she says, [Y]ou don’t need to caramelize every onion you cook. Then I sauteed the kernels, added the stock and seasoned with salt to enhance the flavour. If the soup is too sweet she directs you to add an acid to balance the flavour. The resulting soup was as incredible as the ice cream I ate 5 years ago! The flavour so layered, it’s almost indescribable. We tried the soup both chilled and heated garnished with her Mexican-ish Herb Salsa.
The moment I tasted the soup I immediately remembered that dinner with my friend. This soup was not the result of magic but of simple ingredients that were properly prepared. It was at this point that I knew Salt Fat Acid Heat would be one of those cookbooks that I would keep returning to. There is no greater joy as a cook than to prepare a tasty meal for your kin. With this recipe she also hits home the fact that myriad ingredients and fancy techniques are not needed to be a good cook.
How many people do you know that can’t or won’t bake because “it’s too hard”? I’ve baked but with lack-luster results so with another perfectly summer ingredient, the strawberry, I forged ahead to try baking up some shortcakes. Trying a variation of her Light and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits I successfully baked the most beautiful shortcakes — flaky and tender. They were the prefect way to showcase the strawberry compote and vanilla cream I made (those techniques/recipes are also in her book). You’re probably wondering what the secret is? I won’t tell you the whole method (read her book for that!) but what I will say is that this recipe made me realize that there is a reason why certain ingredients are chilled. This recipe helped me to slow down as a home cook and not rush through a recipe just to get an end result. The journey is half of the fun!
Nosrat is 100% correct when she writes: Store-bought croutons simply can’t compete with homemade ones. Word. I think it’s the texture and the flavour. No tooth-breaking or dried out old bread — just the most wonderful Torn Croutons. I made them for her Summer Panzanella — Tomato, Basil, and Cucumber. We enjoyed this panzanella so much that we had it three times over four nights! Partly it was because of the croutons, partly because of that memorable Tomato Vinaigrette — the dish was such a celebration of fresh summer ingredients. Again, nothing complex only beautifully and simply prepared food. I felt confident to change it up after the first try by adding black lentils and some feta cheese. This is what begins to happen as you learn, you take small steps and become more spontaneous with your cooking.
Like with most of my reviews, here is the hashtag I’m using to showcase what I’ve been making from Salt Fat Acid Heat — #shipshapemasteringsaltfatacidheat. If you’re one for Facebook here is my post dedicated to this book. Although I’ve tried around 10 recipes what the takeaway from this book is is that by learning how to use these elements my practice as a whole will improve. You probably will find no discernible change in my food pictures but trust me the flavours and textures of my cooking have already begun to change. I think this is why my review has taken me so long to write! The publisher sent me a review copy over two months ago but I’ve been reading and studying. In my opinion this is a book you need to take your time with, try recipes, practice techniques, and find joy in the simple art of cooking.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.