Our Verdict: “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat

Maureen: Or, as we continued to call it throughout the month: “Blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Kirstin: I can never remember the complete order of the words.

Maureen: Me neither, but I don’t think that’s important. It was a different type of cookbook for us since the whole first half of the book was taken up by explanations and essays. I dipped in and out of the beginning section, but I’ve got to admit I haven’t read the whole thing yet. Have you?

Kirstin: No.

Maureen: Do you think you’ll read it?

Kirstin: I might do. Knowing that the recipes are good, I might go back and read it now.

Maureen: That makes sense. You’d want to know what she was talking about. I do think this book made me a thoughtful cook.

Kirstin: Give me an example

Maureen: Well, one night I was making what she called “Conveyer Belt Chicken.” Sorry. I didn’t post it. But I did think more about what would be good with it than I would ordinarily. So I also made her salsa verde to go with it. Both were delicious.

Kirstin: Interesting. I thought this book was more like the Zuni cookbook. It was very precise instructions, but they were beautifully written. I love the bit, “Salt the water until it tastes like the sea on a summer’s day.” It’s not only what it tastes like, but what it feels like, and i completely get that. Or fry the garlic until you can just start to smell it. That’s a perfect way of describing it.

Maureen: Sometimes I thought the book was overly complicated, but then having followed the recipe, I could see why it was that way. The food was delicious.

Kirstin: But let’s get down to the whole reason we picked this book in the first place. Is it better than Melissa Clark’s “Dinner”, which we loved but Food52 declared this one better in its annual tournament of cookbooks The Piglet? [Funnily enough, we just realised we did that book exactly a year ago.]

Maureen: [After a thoughtful pause.] Oh, geez, I don’t know. It’s sort of like comparing apples and oranges. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat Apples has incredibly helpful tips and good recipes. It’s a great resource. I can see returning to it time and time again. “Dinner” was more like the books we traditionally review, which has nice photographs and about 100+ recipes. It has great recipes that I still use now. But is it as good a resource? No. So I’m going to say both, which I know is a total cheat, but there you are.

Kirstin: Today, I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner over the weekend and I thought of the recipe for Korean beef, it put an instant smile on my face. So for me, “Dinner” for win. As much as I love the illustrations in “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” I really like having pictures. Particuarly when you’re learning how to cook.

Maureen: But would “Dinner” be a Desert Island Book for you? It’s still early days, but “Salt, Blah, Blah, Blah” would edge out dinner for me in that category.

Kirstin: Desert island book? Ooh, good question. If I was on a desert island, I might have the time to read the introduction. It’s an amazing book and I’ll definitely be cooking a lot from it in the future. But I don’t know the answer to that question yet.

Maureen: This is definitely a book that demands more of your time.

Kirstin: It’s one of those books you have to learn how to use.

Maureen: Which is no bad thing, but still.

 

“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”
Overall Grade (A- F):  A (Maureen) A (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Maureen: The out-of-this-world Ragu Sauce. Yum.  Kirstin: The pork. The pork. The pork.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  N/A. It’s an illustrated book. A for illustrations, though.
Any disasters? Nope.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Definitely bookshelf. Maureen: For sure, bookshelf.                                                                                                                                    Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Maureen: Yes. Kirstin: I’m not sure. I’d give it to a certain type of cook. Everyone else got “Dinner.”

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Our Verdict: “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat

“Beer-Battered Fish” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

What could be more appropriate on Fish Friday but fish and chips?

Nothing, I tell you.

So when I saw the recipe for beer-battered fish in this cookbook, I dove straight in. Fish and chips will always be a winner in this house.

Like the fried chicken, I did this properly by using my candy thermometer to get the oil to exactly the right temperature. This truly is no-fooling-around-with-the-frying for the average home cook. So this was great, but unfortunately, I won’t be recommending this recipe for anyone who wants to make fish and chips at home.

The problem, in a nutshell, was the inclusion of 275ml of vodka in the batter. The recipe is a variation of this one by Heston Blumenthal, where you use equal amounts of vodka and beer for the batter. The “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” recipe uses 275ml of vodka to about 350ml of beer. I struggled with this though, not because the results were delicious (which they were) but the cost of putting that much vodka into the recipe. I could have gotten the super-cheap own-brand supermarket vodka that was available, but what was I going to do with the rest of the bottle? Better to have some decent vodka on hand and then you can use the rest to make cocktails or whatnot, rather than the bottle gathering dust.

So while this was good, and again, like all the recipes in this cookbook, the instructions were clear and helpful, I won’t be making it again. If I want to make beer-battered fish and chips, I’ll probably find a recipe that just uses beer, which will make the batter perhaps slightly less airy, but just as good.

 

 

“Beer-Battered Fish” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

“Fried Chicken” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

Stress levels were high, due to Andrew’s upcoming A-levels, which all kick off in a few short weeks, so I did the one thing I knew would help: make all of Andrew’s favourite foods.

Thus, we found ourselves on a recent night having fried chicken (yum), cowboy rice (yum), tenderstem broccoli (yum), with all of it finished off with a flourish featuring Ruby Tandoh’s chocolate cake (triple yum).

We didn’t have proper fried chicken in our house growing up on the East Coast of the U.S., though I’m sure that’s down to the fact that we didn’t live in the South (where it’s a mainstay) and/or the fact that my dad is not a huge fan of fried chicken. When we did have it, my mom made it using crushed up potato chips and then baking it in the oven, which is fried chicken of a sort, but not proper fried chicken.

This method is proper fried chicken, where I even got to use my candy thermometer to gauge the temperature of the oil (I’m always happy to dig out one of my gadgets to justify its existence). Samin also advises you to either cut a whole chicken into eight pieces or bone about 12 chicken things. I didn’t get to the butcher in time to do either of those things (though Samin says you should do this yourself), so I looked in vain at the supermarket for boned thighs before concluding that you eat fried chicken on the bone in the U.S. so we’ll do the same thing here.

The recipe also gives you an option to make a spicy oil and brush the chicken with it once it’s fried. The adults at the table did this, and while it was interesting, it didn’t make it demonstrably better– mainly because the fried chicken on its own was out-of-this-world delicious.

We even had some leftover, so I was able to enjoy some cold fried chicken (which is a delicacy in and of itself) the next day for lunch. Yum. Yum. Yum.

Did my stress relief strategy for my teenager work? Did it ever. Do I think I’ll be making a lot more fried chicken (and other foods) between now and the end of June? Indeed yes. But making Andrew’s favourite foods is playing to my strengths, so I’m happy to keep doing it. Whatever works.

“Fried Chicken” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

“Chicken with Vinegar” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

Kirstin: How could I resist the story in the intro to this recipe? Samin starts her internship at Chez Panisse and cooks this for her first dinner party. Initially wary, she becomes a complete convert. And I can totally see why. Because chicken and vinegar does not sound, on the face of it, to be a particularly good combination. Add some crème fraîche once it has cooked and it becomes a completely different beast. I made a mustard dressing on the salad to cut through the fat of the sauce, but I needn’t have. A beautiful meal for our first meal outside for the year and one I hope to return to, perhaps when in holiday in France.

“Chicken with Vinegar” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

“Pasta with Broccoli and Bread Crumbs” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

Kirstin: I’m always up for a broccoli pasta recipe after our very good Italian friend Cristiana showed me how to make it once on a chilly autumnal evening in Tuscany. We usually visit Italy in the Summer, but Cristiana was very keen for us to come in the autumn, so we could eat different foods. And so we did, including her broccoli pasta using olive oil we had pressed ourselves. Previously she had taught me how to make a variety of dishes from leftovers; arancini and frittata. Recipes I still use all of the time.
Anyway, I digress. But there is a point to this. I’ve tried a number of broccoli pasta recipes, but this one was the most like the one she taught me how to make. The broccoli slightly mushy but oh so full of chilli and garlic flavour. The breadcrumbs adding some crunch and the parmesan adding some salt. There were a lot of instructions in what on the face of it is a simple recipe. Each and every one was completely worth it. And I do so love the way that Samin talks about food. When boiling the pasta water, “salt until it tastes like the summer sea”. Or. Here’s another “cook gently until the garlic starts to give off an aroma”. These simple instructions encourage one to be involved in the food in a way that other cooks do not. I can tell this book will get much use over many, many years.

Oh and here’s a pic of my companion while cooking.

“Pasta with Broccoli and Bread Crumbs” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

“Pasta al Ragu” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

Really, this is just a fancy meat sauce for pasta, but oh my goodness, this was so good that this cookbook has already paid for itself in good eating just in this one recipe alone.

Like all good long-and-slow recipes– it took about four hours in all– it was bit of a faff up front, especially with all the chopping for the soffritto. But it was utterly worth it. I was surprised to see that the chopped up onions, carrots and celery and almost disappeared into the meat sauce by the time it was done cooking. The long and slow method also enabled all of the ingredients to really get to know one another to become one delicious unit.

However, and this is a biggie, I need to add a caveat: I really was utterly confused by the size of the citrus zest required. It said I needed a 28cm by 8 cm strip of zest– one of lemon, another of orange. I’m sure it was a typo. At least, I hope it was a typo. How in the world would I be able to get a lemon or orange that size? (Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.) I did look high and low on the Internet for some sort of clarification or correction on this, but couldn’t find anything. In the end, I cut about eight strips of zest off of both a lemon and an orange. It certainly seemed to work, though I’d still like to know how much I really need.

This does reintroduce the question of what happens when a book has a typo. I know it’s been tested and edited and proofread, but hey, mistakes happen. But in this day and age, you’d think the publisher would be able to put out some sort of notice somewhere. When Gizzi Erskine had a typo for her Black Velvet Cake in “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”, she put a correction on her Instagram account. For me, the correction came too late and the cake was an utter disaster, but at least the correction was out there.

That problem aside, this was utterly amazing. Sure, it took about four hours, which is not the sort of time commitment you can make on a weekday afternoon. But on a rainy Saturday, it was the perfect thing to have bubbling away on the stove while we got on with other things. (Some of us watched the Master’s. Some of us went to the pub. I’ll leave it to you to decide what I did.) Also, we had enough leftovers to have it again, though I did have to bulk it up a bit with a can of chopped tomatoes.

Sure, there are loads of other beef sauce recipes out there that can be done easier and quicker. But they couldn’t possibly be better than this. We thought it was perfection. Highly recommended.

A Question for our American Readers who have this book: Can you please check the recipe that’s in your addition? Anne from Australia said that in her edition it calls for the same zest measurements, but she guessed– and I agree– that perhaps they ran into problems when they converted it to metric. So I’d be curious to hear what it says in the U.S. book. I’ll post the answer here if anyone has it. Thank you!

“Pasta al Ragu” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

“Pork braised with Chillies”, “Bright Cabbage Slaw” and “Mexican-ish Herb Salsa” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

Kirstin: This recipe is incredible. If you make just ONE recipe from this book, let it be this one. Yes, it may take a few hours to make. Yes, it involves sourcing ancho chillies (complete bind in this part of the world). Yes, it involves a LOT of chopping for the salsa and slaw. But OMG. Seriously hits the spot in every way possible. AND the leftovers were incredible too.

Just DO IT!

“Pork braised with Chillies”, “Bright Cabbage Slaw” and “Mexican-ish Herb Salsa” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”