BY SARA JOHNSON
A dinner recipe is like an assembly manual. Following a recipe doesn’t give you the intuition of a chef, just like hammering in some nails doesn’t give you the vision of a furniture designer. But Samin Nosrat’s book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking (Simon & Schuster, 2017), aims to arm aspiring chefs with the knowledge—and confidence—to improvise in the kitchen with or without the guidance of a recipe. Following the book’s success, Netflix released a four-episode documentary series based on the book in October of last year, where Nosrat explores the four “elements” in countries across the globe.
“Whether you’ve never picked up a knife or you’re an accomplished chef,” Nosrat writes in the book’s introduction, “there are only four basic factors that determine how good your food will taste: salt, which enhances flavor; fat, which amplifies flavor and makes appealing textures possible; acid, which brightens and balances; and heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food.”
The 480-page book, which won a 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award, is divided into two parts: The first part addresses the four “elements” in the book’s title, and part two includes recipes and tips, like how to properly prepare and slice or dice an onion. The four elements chapters balance practical how-tos with the science of why it’s important to cook that way.
Nosrat’s accessible prose is paired with illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton, highlighting concepts from how to make mayonnaise to basic salting guidelines (probably more than you’ve ever used before). Followers of chef Alice Waters and her Berkeley, Calif., restaurant, Chez Panisse will delight in the anecdotes peppered throughout the book about Nosrat’s trial-and-error cooking education in the hallowed walls of that restaurant.
In the book, Nosrat compares cooking to jazz. “Use them [salt, fat, acid, and heat] to develop a repertoire of basic dishes that you can cook anytime, anywhere. Eventually, like Louis or Ella, you’ll be able to simplify or embellish your cooking at the drop of a porkpie hat.”
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