With “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” Farmers Can Learn To Cook What They Grow

Author Samin Nosrat and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton teach you how to employ four basic principles to prepare a great meal from basic ingredients.

by Jesse Frost
PHOTO: Simon & Schuster

You don’t have to be a good cook to be a good farmer, but there is certainly a significant advantage to being a farmer who knows how to cook well. Having the ability to grow food as well as cook it opens up new marketing opportunities in areas such as cooking classes and value-added products. (Rachael Mamane reaches a similar end through different angles in Mastering Stocks and Broths.) It also enables you to speak knowledgeably with chefs and customers about preparing your product. Of course, learning to cook isn’t as easy as just deciding it’s something you want to do. You need a good teacher, or at least a good book. And in Salt Fat Acid Heat, you get both.

Samin Nosrat is a chef and cooking instructor who honed her cooking craft in several great kitchens around the world including the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley. She was also featured in Michael Pollan’s Cooked as one of his cooking mentors. (Pollan, for his part, wrote a rousing forward for her book.) In Salt Fat Acid Heat she gives the reader not just a book of recipes, but also a basic approach to cooking that employs four nearly universal principles: the use of salts, fats, acids and heats.

Nosrat shows us that almost every meal comprises these properties. You learn about the many different kinds of salt, for instance, and also about how sprinkling liberal quantities of salt over raw meat helps penetrate the flesh and unleash flavor molecules wrapped tightly in proteins. Elsewhere in Salt Fat Acid Heat, Nosrat explains how fat isn’t just a cooking product, but can be used to flavor a dish (think: butter on toast) or spread flavor around. Acid, the reader discovers, is more than vinegar or citrus, and it can be found in cheeses and veggies to “heighten other flavors.” Heat, meanwhile, is a more than just hot, warm or tepid. Indeed, the way a cook uses heat might be the most nuanced principle in the book.

Complemented by joyful—and often hilarious—illustrations from Wendy MacNaughton, Nosrat’s text in Salt Fat Acid Heat describes the science behind utilizing and combing each principle in a way that is fun, approachable, and keeps you reading. Unlike many cookbooks, this is a book you will just read. You will pick it up and devour several fascinating pages in a row—and be tempted to read the whole book at once—in a flurry of “aha” moments. Once you’ve taken this in, you will understand cooking on a more holistic level—a level that will increase your understanding of how meals work, while giving you confidence to cook a meal from scratch, no real recipes required.

Of course recipes are placed throughout Salt Fat Acid Heat to get you going, ones that are simple (mayonnaise, for instance) and indicative of the book’s underlying principles (glazed five spice-chicken). Yet it’s much more about improvisational cooking and technique than just “put these ingredients together and voila.” Even the recipes are more guidelines than step-by-step instructions. MacNaughton’s illustrated charts and graphs help you navigate, for example, different technique and knife skills as well as the varied uses of each principle. There is also a most excellent “pie chart” on tarts.

If you’re a farmer looking to learn more about the how to cook the food you grow, or how to turn any raw ingredient into a meal, I can’t recommend Salt Fat Acid Heat enough. I have read many cookbooks over the years, and this is one of the only cookbooks I can say with honesty that truly teaches you how to prepare a meal.

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The Final Word

Generally speaking, cookbooks do not teach you how to cook. Though often beautiful and inspiring, cookbooks are the instruction manuals of the culinary world, and only tell you how to put meals together like a piece of furniture. What’s happening that makes a meal good? That is what you need to learn to become a good cook. And I believe few books have done a better job of that than Salt Fat Acid Heat. Few cookbooks teach you this much about how to take raw ingredients and turn them into something delicious.

At a Glance

  • Title: Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking
  • Author: Samin Nosrat, illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Release date: June 2017
  • Target Audience: Farmers who want to learn to cook; home cooks who want to get better

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