Salt, Fat, Acid, Ask For What You Want (With Samin Nosrat)

Samin Nosrat
Samin Nosrat is a chef and the author of "Salt Fat Acid Heat." She also stars in a new Netflix documentary series of the same name. Adam Rose / Netflix
Samin Nosrat
Samin Nosrat is a chef and the author of "Salt Fat Acid Heat." She also stars in a new Netflix documentary series of the same name. Adam Rose / Netflix

Salt, Fat, Acid, Ask For What You Want (With Samin Nosrat)

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If you think you’re hopeless in the kitchen, Samin Nosrat is here to help.

“Once you know a few things about cooking, you actually know a lot more than you think you do,” Nosrat told Nerdette podcast.

Nosrat is a chef and the author of Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking. She also hosts a four-part food documentary series on Netflix called Salt Fat Acid Heat. Each episode focuses on an element of cooking in four parts of the world: fat in Italy, salt in Japan, acid in Mexico, and heat in California.

The Netflix series looks at how certain ingredients are made and what makes them delicious. But Nosrat said she also wanted to show moments where people would actually get together to eat a meal.

“The most important part is coming together. It doesn’t really even matter what you eat,” Nosrat said.

“Food is just my tool. It happens to be a really convenient tool to tell stories and bring people together. But really, my evil plan is to just create more community wherever I go.”

Nosrat talked with Nerdette host Greta Johnsen about the value of those four primary elements, of making mistakes, and of writing down your goals in a manifestation journal. Below are highlights.

Why salt, fat, acid, and heat?

Samin Nosrat: Basically these four elements are universal to all good cooking.

Salt enhances flavor; it makes things taste more like themselves.

Fat carries flavor, it really transports flavor throughout a dish, and it also helps us achieve all sorts of different textures like crispy, creamy, light, tender, and flaky.

Acid is kind of — I think it might be my favorite — it’s a source of contrast. While salt enhances, acid balances. It offers some other thing, some other flavor for things to reverberate off of in our mouth. It’s that squeeze of lime on top of your fried fish taco. It’s that thing that’s missing.

And heat is just how we cook our food. It’s how we apply heat to achieve the textures we want.

Accept your mistakes

Nosrat: I think it’s one of the most important things I have taken away from being a professional cook: that everything doesn’t always turn out great. Even in the highest kitchens, everyone’s not nailing it every night.

There is a kind of beauty in the fact that whatever you make on a particular day — maybe it’s the greatest thing, maybe it’s the worst possible thing — no matter what, you have to start again tomorrow. There’s kind of this beautiful impermanence in cooking that I think is very freeing.

Learn from grandmothers

Nosrat: When I started cooking, I remember the chefs told me, “You won’t know anything until you’ve been doing this for 10 years. That’s the point at which it lives in your body.” This was before Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule, but it’s the same thing. It really is true — right around 10 years, I started to tell that I could do things without thinking about it so hard. It started to come naturally to me.

So if you think about that 10 years thing, that 10,000 hours thing … the people who have been cooking for their families their entire lives, can you imagine how skilled these grandmothers are at these tasks that they’re doing every single day, for hours a day? And who better to teach us than these women? It was really important to me to honor these grandmothers, because I’ve always aspired to grandma cooking.

Homework: Make a manifestation journal and articulate your goals

Nosrat: I do think taking a little bit of time, a couple times a year, to articulate your goals and your dreams and your desires is helpful because it helps orient you toward them. And even if they change or don’t come true, that’s fine. It’s just nice to have a record. There’s a lot of joy and pleasure in going back and seeing how you’ve grown, and what you’ve done, and maybe even how you’ve changed.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced and adapted for the web by Sofi LaLonde and Justin Bull.