Samin Nosrat is the charismatic and infectiously enthusiastic chef, author, and host of “Salt Fat Acid Heat” on Netflix. This series is based on her book by the same name. I first came across this show on Netflix before I had heard of the book, which is on my TBR list! She shares a little of her cooking background at Chez Panisse and how it taught her to cook with her senses to have a little bit of salt, fat, acid, and heat in every meal to create balanced, composed dishes.
In this miniseries, the filmography is reminiscent of “Chef’s Table” in its atmospheric, beautiful depictions of places and food. The tone is just as exuberant as “Somebody Feed Phil” except Samin fills the role of an educated chef learning new things and breaking down seemingly complex cooking topics for a home cook audience. She wants you to learn and to taste and to try, immediately after (or even during!) this four episode miniseries.
Reason 1: The women who teach us how to cook
We are introduced to so many amazing women in “Salt Fat Acid Heat” who share their time, knowledge, and processes with us. There is Lidia, in Italy, who teaches us how to make pesto in a mortar and pestle. Yuri, a friend of Samin’s and a chef in Japan, makes tai-meshi, a dish of rice, dashi, and tai. Doña Asaria in Mexico shows her how to make corn tortillas from nixtamalized, milled corn, estimating that she makes 200 to 250 per day. Shahla, Samin’s mother, instructs her on the proper way to make Persian tahdig, rice with a crispy bottom.
Reason 2: Every culture cooks with fat
She teaches us through olive oil in Italy that fat adds flavour, a silky texture, and amplifies other flavours in the dish. She says, “Entire cuisines are defined by their fats.” In Mexico, a common fat is lard, while in Italy it is olive oil. In France, butter is the fat of choice and in the southern United States, bacon fat and lard are used.
Reason 3: The importance of salt
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between sea salt, iodized salt, and himalayan salt? How do these differences affect your finished meal? Salt can help things taste more like themselves and enhance flavour, like we learned about in How To Taste. In Episode 2 in Japan at an artisan salt store, we learn the size of the crystal affects how salty we perceive it to be. Larger crystals (like Kosher salt) that melt slower are perceived as less salty than smaller crystals (table salt) that melt quickly.
Not all salts come from the sea! French salt (fleur de sel) is made by evaporating sea water using the sun. Pink Himalayan salt comes from rock salt mined from ancient sea beds. Japanese salt like moshia is harvested from seaweed, left to dry and then processed in a facility. When cooking, choose a salt that comes from the same culture to complement the food. By sticking within the same culture, you are less likely to accidentally oversalt your food. Plus, it’s fun to experiment with new salts and see how they differ from typical iodized or kosher salt.
Reason 4: A peak into food production
Unlike other travel food shows that are often only focused on eating and shopping at markets, Samin takes us into the world of food production in Italy (fat), Japan (salt), and Mexico (acid). In Italy, we get a taste of how olives from the grove turn into olive oil by following the harvest, watching the grinding and pressing of the olives to release their oils, and finish with an olive oil tasting. We watch as 1000L of milk become two wheels of cheese. In Japan, we see how seaweed is harvested and dried, then soaked to extract the salt and finally dried and packaged. In Mexico, we watch as acidic honey is harvested from bees, producing only one liter per year, unlike the traditional honeybee which produces 30 to 40 liters per year.
Reason 5: The cooking advice
In “Heat,” Samin doles out her best cooking advice for home cooks by grilling steaks at Chez Panisse, baking a whole chicken, and making tahdig with her mother. When grilling steaks, we learn that meat has to come to room temperature before cooking or else it will seize and toughen up. By salting early and often, we ensure our food is perfectly balanced. When making a bean salad with her cookbook illustrator, Wendy MacNaughton, we see three preparations of a white bean (dry, pre-soaked, cooked) to demonstrate how the bean changes after being soaked – a time-saving tip for cooking beans.
Reason 6: Samin’s attention and care
Samin Nosrat has helped create a beautiful show with “Salt Fat Acid Heat” that represents a different way to show food and travel. She avoids coming off as a brash tourist by often speaking the language of the country she is in. She holds space for her guests to express themselves, highlighting their joy and care for the food they produce and eat. She chose to focus on showing women in this show, mostly older women. Food travel shows usually focus on men and often don’t show the food made by the inhabitants of the country being filmed in.
Reason 7: Heat and transformation
In the final episode of “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” we learn about what cooking does to raw food. The Maillard reaction, a term often used in cooking jargon to describe the chemical process of transformation in food, is definitively broken down as the browning of meats, vegetables, seafood, etc, are cooked. By understanding how heat can transform food, you can play with different types of cooked and raw foods to get the exact texture you are after.
Reason 8: Acid in different cultures
To learn about acid’s role in cooking, we travel to the “citrus belt” of Mexico, the Yucatan. Here, the acid of choice is citrus – often in the form of limes. Acid can help “lift” a fatty dish and provide contrast and balance between fat and spice. All fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and alcohol are acidic. In France, they often cook with wine to cut through the richness of butter and cream. In Spain, vinegar is the choice acid, whereas in Persia (where Samin’s parents are from), it is yogurt.
Reason 9: Travel to Italy, Japan, and Mexico (virtually)
Right now, travel isn’t possible for most of us. Travel virtually to Italy in Episode 1 and visit the cheese market and Lidia’s house to make pesto. Or head to the Tokyo fish market in Japan in Episode 3 and learn about how to choose a good fish. In the Yucatan in Mexico, we travel with Samin to the citrus market and try naranja agria (sour orange). We end in California, cooking with Samin in her home and visiting grocery stores with neat rows of stacked and vibrant produce.
Reason 10: Learn how to shop
The last episode of “Salt Fat Acid Heat” is reserved for helping home cooks take the lessons from the previous three episodes and put them to use. Because everyone has learned the importance of salt, fat, heat, and acid, she gives practical tips on how to shop for good quality ingredients. For steak, look for even speckled marbling, whereas with brisket, you will want a fat cap to provide juiciness to the meat while it is slow cooking. On broccoli stems you want to look at the ends. If they are yellowed, that means they are not fresh. Fresher produce equals sweeter produce. These practical tips are meant for the home cook wanting to become more confident in the kitchen and better their cooking skills.
I hope you’re inspired to watch or re-watch “Salt Fat Acid Heat” after reading this blog post. If you are, tag me on IG @finnyfromscratch!