Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat, illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton, is listed on Amazon as a Cooking Encyclopedia. I think of it as a kind of light textbook, definitely more than just your average collection of recipes. It’s basically a cooking course, but is more about methodology and learning the why of it all than just giving you every recipe ever.
Like any course of study, the more time and energy that you put in to this book, the more you will get out of it. A quick skim of the book’s contents and it’s easy to think there really aren’t many recipes, but with closer reading it is soon clear that there are endless variations on each basic set of instructions. These are not idly thrown out changes of ingredients, either. They are well thought out recipes that just use the same base.
The sauces in this book are bright, light and simple. It’s not exhaustive—there are none of the French Mother Sauces, for example. It’s a sauce section that fits our modern desire for lighter, fresher, healthier foods. Take the time, and your home cooked meals will reach new heights. Included are a whole range of herb salsas, homemade mayonnaises, pestos, yogurt sauces, and pepper sauces, including harissa, romesco, and muhammara.
Samin is a teacher, and that comes from being a student. You can feel the respect she has for the contributions of all dedicated cooks, whether they practice their craft in a fancy restaurant, a roadside stand, or a home kitchen. She has a zeal for learning, a lot of knowledge, and a gift for connecting the culinary dots. This book is full of examples of that. Wendy MacNaughton’s illustrations are beautiful and sometimes very funny, but the most amazing thing they do is distill information. The best example of this is the flavor maps, which lay out, color wheel style, the fats, acids, herbs and spices typical to cuisines from around the world. But there are so many other useful drawings—the pesto pie chart; salsa math; fruit: how and when; an illustrated guide to braising; sources of umami; and on and on.
I made: Bright cabbage slaw (p. 224), Roasted radicchio and roquefort panzanella (p. 234), Persian-is rice (p. 285), Pasta cacio e pepe (p. 290), Pasta with broccoli and bread crumbs (p. 295), Slow roasted salmon and Citrus salmon (p.310), Crispiest spatchcock chicken (p. 316), Chicken pot pie (p. 322), Chicken with vinegar (p. 336), Kufte kebabs (p. 357), Basic salsa verde (p. 360), North African chermoula (p. 367), Apple and frangipane tart (p. 397), Buttermilk panna cotta (p. 419).
Would make again: Bright cabbage slaw (p. 224), Pasta cacio e pepe (p. 290), Slow roasted salmon and Citrus salmon (p.310), Crispiest spatchcocked chicken (p. 316), Chicken pot pie (p. 322), Chicken with vinegar (p. 336), Basic salsa verde (p. 360), North African chermoula (p. 367), Apple and frangipane tart (p. 397), Buttermilk panna cotta (p. 419).
Standout Star Recipe: Crispiest spatchcocked chicken has to be the winner. It’s super easy and the chicken is perfectly crisp, juicy, and flavorful. More importantly, I passed the recipe along to my mother and my younger brother, and they have both adopted it as their go-to, favorite roasted chicken recipe. It’s not possible to get a better review than that.
Even if you don’t usually like panna cotta (me), Samin’s Buttermilk panna cotta is so worth a try. It is outstanding. I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture, but I guess that’s just how quickly we ate them up!
Aaron’s tart dough is a very impressive dough for a freeform galette style tart. It’s delicious and tender but also super strong. I used it to make the Apple and frangipane tart, and loved being able to just pick up and eat a slice on the go.
Equipment and Ingredients
Very basic equipment needed for most of the recipes. Also, notably easy to acquire ingredient lists. Almost as though the point of this book is to cook what you have already have access to, but do it better.
Are these recipes difficult?
Not at all. The instructions are simple, the recipes came out very well the first time. That said, Samin is happy to put in extra time chopping herbs and stirring maniacally when it makes the food better, and she does seem to expect the same from us home cooks. Still, some of the recipes, like the excellent slow cooked salmon and spatchcocked chicken, are so simple they can be explained in 5 minutes over the phone.
Tips and Advice
- After struggling to get through the first half of the book, which is all information and no recipes, I got the audiobook, which only covers that first section. It’s not that it’s poorly written, it’s just really dense with information. If you are willing to pay the extra money and are someone who finds it difficult to get through as well, I think it’s worth it. It would be a shame to just skip over the first section, there’s a lot of good information in there.
- This book is a really effective guide for cooking. Whether you are experienced as a cook or a beginner, it’s a great place to try something new. Maybe for you that means a braised meat, an unfamiliar chicken preparation, making a sauce to go with your food, or making a dessert. Going out on a limb with Samin is a good bet.
- Check out Samin’s Netflix show by the same name. Each episode focuses on of her elements of good cooking: salt she explores in Japan, fat in Italy, acid in Mexico, and heat here in the US, in California. She is so charming and full of joy and it is lovely and inspiring to go on this big journey with her.
- Samin also had a wonderful podcast called Home Cooking with Hrishikesh Hirway, answering all kinds of cooking questions that came up for people during our collective Coronavirus Quarantines. So sad it’s over, but there are still 14 episodes of their initially four part series to enjoy!
Is this food delicious?
Yes, absolutely. There are some recipes that I know will be a part of my repertoire forever. In my estimation, it is well worth it to get this book.
Is it Family Friendly?
Absolutely. A lot of family friendly, down to earth food. This would be a great book for a teenager, too. You can learn a lot very quickly.
Tone of the Book
This book is focused on teaching and learning, and while it has some humor, it is very dense with information. It does read like a textbook, especially the first half. The illustrations help a lot with the overall levity of the book and also very effectively simplify large amounts of information.
I love the design of this book! The illustrations are original and so lovely! The white background combines with all the pops of color to be bright and cheerful. There does seem to have been some effort, as well, to minimize page turning and keep recipes on one spread. Much appreciated.
Is there practical advice for home cooks?
Yes, this entire book is practical advice for home cooks.
Healthiness of recipes/ adaptability to dietary needs
There’s something for everyone. There are a lot of meat recipes, so it might not be the favorite choice of a vegetarian, though there is a lot that could be useful regardless. It’s a guide to cooking, so a lot of it can be adapted if you have allergies or a special diet.
Who wants this book? Is it a good gift?
I would recommend this book to anyone. It could be easy to look at it and think it’s for beginners, but when you really dive in, it becomes clear that there is a lot of value here, no matter your level of cooking expertise. That said, I think this would be an especially great book for a teenager who is ready to learn about cooking. It’s so informative and easy to follow the directions of the recipes, and the deeper you go, the more you can learn.
TLDR: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat is a wide ranging, super informative guide to modern home cooking. There are easy to follow and delicious recipes, but also and perhaps more importantly, it is a deep dive in to the principles of good cooking. Great for your home collection, great as a gift for anyone who wants to cook and learn.
Find Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, published in the U.S. by Simon and Schuster, wherever you buy books, or order it from Amazon!