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. Accurate. It’s basically a cooking course, 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 that 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. 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.
Want more Samin?
Check out her wonderful Netflix show! 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!
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.