Since the publication of “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” by Samin Nosrat, more attention is being paid to acid as an essential aspect of the cooking arts. It’s a tool that most chefs and many good cooks use to bring into focus the final flavor of a dish.
You already know that you like acid in connection to food if you add a squeeze of lemon to your fish or your favorite BBQ sauce is a North Carolina style with a vinegar base. You may have a preference for wines with a good acidity or feel pickles are essential when you have a sandwich piled high with pastrami.
Around here we had an ongoing editing duel over the word acid. Penny would use the word in a draft of an article and Ed would try to replace it with a “friendlier” word, e.g. tartness. To him the word acid was unappealing.
To Penny it was exactly what she meant to say. It represented the range of flavor balancing agents she used including citrus juices, vinegars, wines, beers, fermented vegetables, and dairy products like yogurt and crème fraiche to create our favorite dishes. Our duel ended as we explored the acid chapter in “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” and we both gained a greater acceptance of the word acid as a positive part of cooking.
The illustrations are an important part of this book. Penny thinks they should be sold as framed posters to add to kitchen decor and serve as references for cooks as they work. For example, as you can see above, acid is presented in a series of circles that lets you quickly explore the world of acid. The instructions say, “Use this wheel to help you choose which cooking acids (inner circle) and garnishing acids (outer circle) to use as you cook food from around the world.”
To add Vietnamese zest to your meal, you would cook with lime, rice wine vinegar, rice wine or beer, and garnish with fish sauce, hoisin sauce, or pickled shallots. The salad above took that Vietnamese route.
In Greece they cook with beer, wine, vinegar, or lemon, and finish with tomato, olive, yogurt, feta, or halloumi. Just knowing these selections for culture-after-culture can add excellent variation to something as simple as grilled chicken. The salad above took on that Greek character.
Recipes and Tips
In the “How Acid Works” section, you will learn how the chemistry of acid impacts things like color and texture along with tips for avoiding acid missteps. Next comes a recipe for Pasta Alle Vongole (spaghetti with clams) that demonstrates how acid works in a dish. That is followed by tips for using acid both within a dish and within a meal.
In addition to all of this, you are offered many variations. The recipe for Chicken and Garlic Soup has instructions for turning it into one of our favorite meals. Pho Ga or Vietnamese chicken noodle soup.
Remember, this is only one of four basic aspects of cooking that are explained in this book by the woman who taught Michael Pollan, New York Times bestselling author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, to cook.
In his foreword to the book Pollan wrote, “... I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a book on cooking that was this useful or unusual. I suspect that’s because reading SALT FAT ACID HEAT feels less like being in the pages of a cookbook than at a really good cooking school ..." We highly recommend this book to both experienced cooks and those who are just beginning to explore the culinary arts.
SALT FAT ACID HEAT is available as an ebook, hardcover, or audiobook.
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Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino
Photos: ©2017 Penny & Ed Cherubino cover artwork courtesy of Salt-Fat-Acid-Heat