Last week I asked my Instagram friends for books that will teach me to cook better and the winner was clear – Samin Nosrat’s book “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.” In her book, Nosrat distills the art and science of cooking down to four main elements:
Are you surprised? If so, what gave it away???
Seriously though, since I’ve started this new blogging journey, I’ve basically only posted about food and I guess for lack of a better word here, “recipes.” I’ve always been a food-thrower-togetherer but now that I want to share my love for cooking, I’m feeling a bit inadequate.
I understand the power of inspiration (which I hope you find here). However, I have so many questions. And I want to be able to work smarter and not harder. Time is a precious commodity for me these days. I suppose it is for everyone too.
The more I learn, the less I know
When I watch cooking shows or videos, I really admire how a chef or recipe creator is able to tell you about the symbiotic nature of ingredients when put together. “This ingredient will enhance this flavor,” or “this thing will add this effect.” That’s the part I’m lacking.
Now don’t worry, I’m not getting down on myself here. This was the precipice of starting this blog… to learn and share what I learn and engage along the way. I’m finding so much enrichment from asking questions to my social media friends because I’ve gotten some really great advice and ideas lately!
Plus, it reinforces the fact that I’m now passionate about something that everyone can possibly relate to. Even if you hate cooking! LOL
Lessons from ‘salt, fat, acid, heat’
Back to this book though, because it’s already been life-changing. On top of that, the New York Times bestselling author and food columnist, Samin Nosrat, has a four-part mini-series on Netflix that is great to wet your beak with.
Tom and I watched it together and felt so inspired while we learned some new things. The episodes take place in different parts of the world whose culture strongly showcase the use of one of the four elements in its cooking. Some scenes cut back to Nosrat’s kitchen where she cooks everyday meals that you or I would make.
There were some stories and anecdotes I took comfort in learning. Things such as:
- Samin Nosrat started as a busser at Chez Panisse and worked her way up into the kitchen.
- Typically, she doesn’t follow recipes either and tastes food as she cooks.
- Learning to love cooking came a little bit later in life for her.
- She fails almost every day, but it’s made her an even better chef.
Learning these brought me comfort because it shows me that I too can become a better cook. Although I do like following other people’s recipes, I just tend to throw together my own food when cooking.
What I’ve learned about salt
I’m no stranger when it comes to salt. However, I’m learning so much about it from this book. Nosrat argues that the mineral is the most important element when it comes to cooking.
1. Salt is a flavor enhancer
More than pepper’s right-hand-man, using the right amount of salt at the right time brings out flavors in a dish that otherwise may not have been there. In other words, it should amplify the flavors of a dish, not overpower it. Overall, the eating experience is made better by salt because it:
- Minimizes bitterness
- Balances out sweetness
- Enhances aromas
- Deepens flavors
- Improves texture
I had never thought of the multi-dimensional properties of salt like that before. While adding its own taste, it makes the flavor of other ingredients better.
2. Don’t use more salt, use it better
In Nosrat’s book, she says, “Add it in the right amount, at the right time, in the right form. A smaller amount of salt applied while cooking will often do more to improve flavor than a larger amount added at the table.” She goes through the science of osmosis and diffusion when it comes to salting food. She teaches about the concept of “salting from within.”
The three variables to salt diffusion are:
- Amount of water
This really struck me and I immediately got to work testing this out in our home cooking. For instance, Tom brought home a beautiful New York strip recently and we excitedly salted the meat and wrapped it back up in the butcher paper and let it sit. Once it cooked and rested, we dug in.
WOW. Maybe a little too much salt. I asked Tom if he put more salt on it, which he didn’t. But I was blown away by how much it changed the taste of the steak. It was so good and tender and moist.
3. There are a lot of different types of salt
Some salt is saltier and the shape of salt depends on how it was made. I had no clue. When following recipes and using different salts, this is why it’s important to salt to taste. The main types of salt are:
- Table salt
- Kosher salt
- Sea salt
I also had no clue about iodized salt. We’ve all seen it and probably purchased it before. She explains that Morton Salt began adding iodine to their salt in the ’20s because iodine deficiency was a common health problem.
However, she says to avoid it if you don’t need it. It often contains dextrose which is a form of sugar to prevent clumps from forming. It also has a metallic taste which can alter the taste of your dish, and not for the better.
4. Salt affects foods differently
Time is the crucial variable when salting foods, not the amount. Another big shift for me.
In meat for instance, salt breaks down the proteins making it more tender. In her show, Nosrat brings her meat home from the butcher, immediately salts it and puts it back in the fridge. Even though she’s not cooking it for a day or two.
The larger and more dense a piece of meat is, the earlier it should be salted. The colder the environment, the longer salt will take to do its work. Meat can sit out on the counter for up to two hours.
Seafood on the other hand is delicate, so salting it too early is no good. She goes into how salt affects eggs, vegetables, fruits, fungi, legumes, grains, doughs and batters. But I won’t get into that here. I will say though, my head was spinning from realizing I’ve probably been using salt wrong or not enough all this time.
5. The art of salting
Sure, there is an art to cooking with salt, especially when you have to consider the proper ratios, measurements, layers, etc,. But I had no clue there were different ways of applying salt to food. Nosrat encourages the use of three methods when salting foods:
- The Palmful
- The Wrist Wag
- The Pinch
In the video below, she shows her three salting methods.
Well, there you have it. Five takeaways I’ve learned about salt from being introduced to Samin Nosrat and her cooking videos, series and book. I hear she’s working on another cookbook, which I’m excited about. Even though, I’ve barely made a dent in her first one. Now on to fat!
Did you learn anything new or interesting? Let me know in the comments below!