Or, Apologies to Samin Nosrat for Never Finishing Your Book
I tried to do Samin Nosrat’s iconic cookbook, Salt Fat Acid Heat, as a cookbook of the month. I bought it on my Kindlle, and lord, did I try. I really did. I read through at least the Salt section of the monstrous 200+ pages of cooking instruction and introduction before you even get to the big recipes. I wrote it’s introduction for the month, which you can find at this link if you’re feeling froggy. I never, ever, wrote a final report. I didn’t so much as make excuses.
I pretended it didn’t happen..
But it did, and I remember it.
When Quarantine settled in and I knew I’d have time for both reading and cooking, a part of me wanted to do a redemption tour for these books that I either abandoned or negatively graded at the end of the month to see if the problem was indeed the book. I can say with almost complete confidence that the problem I had in December of 2018 was not the book. It was me and my kindle.
I rarely used it then, and I rarely use it now. My Kindle sits on my nightstand, dead as a doornail most nights. If I want to read something specific that’s only available as an e-book, I charge it up and forget it just as quickly. So in December of 2018, I should have known this would be a problem for me when I discovered how much cooking instruction goes into the first portions of Nosrat’s cookbook.
I had a history already with this problem in other cookbooks I bought on my kindle in order to shave some of the costs associated with buying and cooking from a different cookbook twelve months out of the year. While I did cook from and complete a review for Six Seasons that same year from my Kindle, I have to face the music. I didn’t READ it, really. I looked for recipe titles that looked cool and worked from there.
This time, I can say with full confidence that I have read all two hundred pages of Nosrat’s written content before the recipe section ever shows up because I bought a hardback copy. So, my apologies Samin Nosrat. Although I know you will literally never read this article, please know that I feel a degree of shame for burying your book deep into the electronic recesses of my Kindle, never to be time stamped again.
The artistry that goes into the illustrations of the cookbook are far more approachable and appreciated in a paper form. I have notes from when I attempted to read this cookbook the first time where I said I would literally never use any of the charts I encounter when I first tried to read it. I think this remains true (aside from the Acids guide based upon which cuisine you want to emulate) , but at least I actually looked at them this time around.
The content within those extensive sections on her four elements of cooking is useful for cooks of all skill levels. I’ve been cooking for more than ten years now, and I learned a lot about salting my food, using acid to achieve balance, what kinds of fats are better for what, and how heat affects the food. If I started out with this kind of information at my fingertips, I can’t imagine what I would have achieved by now. Still, that I find value in it now is important.
Many of the recipes in Salt Fat Acid Heat are constructed in a way to let you learn about her four major elements of cooking. They break down into major categories such as steaks, sauces, meats, etc. I was most in love with the sauces portion of the cookbook since I was looking for ways to spice up some of the old, dusty weeknight meals that I have been making during quarantine. The very basic sauce, for example-- homemade mayonnaise, comes with several different ways to level it up once you are able to master the simpler recipe.
I loved making the mayonnaise and turning into something special for dinner one night with my husband. What’s better on a grilled cheese than a good chive mayo? Maybe a chili mayo that uses the pepper paste recipe Samin has a few pages away from the mayo in the cookbook? God, I love all sauces.
I regret not giving this cookbook the due it deserved when I first downloaded it to my Kindle a few years ago. It’s a mistake I won’t be making again. Cookbooks shouldn’t be on screens-- not big, beautiful compilations like this one. Food blogs like mine that have recipes deserve the screen, but if you want to read for a long time-- the book is best.
It's also worth discussing the writer herself when we discuss this book. Samin Nosrat has grown a book into a netflix special, ran a podcast during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now uses her social media presence to highlight black food writers and chefs during the wake of the George Floyd murders. She has been, from the beginning of her ascent, a chef bent on change and understanding within the community. Through her many day instagram spree of sharing images of and from these black creators, I have already learned a lot.
If for no other reason you consider her cookbook, consider it knowing she is a chef of Persian descent using her popularity to amplify the voices of black chefs in the online community. Know that she recognizes what she can do for these people right now, and she’s doing it. But, don’t let that take away from the fact she is also incredibly talented, well written, and smart. If we were all like her in the kitchen, we’d be eating much better.
Because this review is coming after we started an actual rating system, we’re giving it numbers this time around!
Accessibility: 5 out of 5
Two hundred pages is two hundred pages, but that two hundred pages is filled with information that can help all cooks. That doesn’t even include the recipes! Those recipes start very basic and can be evolved into bigger, crazier things depending on your comfort level, making it one of the easier books I’ve brought into my kitchen to adapt to my needs. Knowing the basic building blocks made me a better, more adventurous cook. It’s going to be out on my kitchen island for the rest of the lockdown for this exact reason.
Difficulty: 5 out of 5
It’s as difficult as you, the cook, want it to be. Samin does a wonderful job of lining it all out for you in the simple form recipes and giving you steps up if you want them. There is no incredible skill barrier to get through with this book. The emphasis in each recipe is on technique, and the level ups that she includes all have a variety of ways you can make them your own while building off what you’ve learned during the earlier reading.
Originality: 4 out of 5
Forms of the basic recipes in this cookbook exist everywhere, but the actual form of the cookbook is something new compared to the rest of the books on my shield. Having such a deep wealth of knowledge to draw from in the early pages of this book is not typical of other books in the genre. Samin is a teacher, and her book is a vehicle of that skill. She may as well have been standing there next to me teaching me her basic elements of cooking.