Tag Archives: cooking


Tortoise Tuesday: The Evidence-Based Argument in Salt Fat Acid Heat

            Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat is just one of many cooking shows available for binge watching on Netflix’s online streaming platform. Nosrat’s approach, however, stands out—unlike many shows, which simply display certain recipes or exotic cuisines, Salt Fat Acid Heat aims to teach viewers the basic principles of cooking. Based on Nosrat’s cookbook of the same name, Salt Fat Acid Heat is a cooking show with a methodology, evidence-based approach, and thesis, which shines through in the title of the show itself. Nosrat claims that by understanding these four basic elements of food, viewers will not only gain an intuitive sense of good cooking, but they will know a bit more about what makes cuisines from around the world so delicious.

            At first glance, Nosrat’s methodology appears very similar to other travel-based cooking shows. She visits one country in each episode, focusing on a specific element of cuisine: “Salt” brings her to Japan, “Fat” to Italy, and “Acid” to Mexico. Along the way, however, Nosrat’s approach is uniquely shaped by her thoughtful accumulation of evidence. In Japan, she visits a salt vendor, a traditional soy sauce manufacturer, and a woman who makes her own miso at home. She explains to her viewers how the differences between types of salt can make certain dishes, flavors, or types of seafood shine in Japanese cooking. When discussing how fat is an essential component of good food, Nosrat focuses on how olive oil shapes Italian cuisine. She briefly mentions, however, how different choices have shaped other cuisines—food in the American South uses a lot of animal fat, for instance, while French food is defined by the flavor of butter. Her discussion of acid is particularly illuminating, because this is an element of cooking that’s particularly hard for most people to pinpoint. Nosrat starts the episode in a fruit market in Mexico. She shops for different types of citrus, which is the most immediate association people have with acidity. Over the course of the episode, however, Nosrat shows how other elements of Mexican food like sour cream, vinegary salsa, and honey also provide a delicious acidic zing that can transform a dish. Nosrat’s evidence-based approach allows her viewers to follow her reasoning and intuitively understand her claims.

            In the final installment of the show, “Heat,” Nosrat develops the evidence she’s accumulated in her travels into her final thesis about intuitive and informed cooking. She returns home to California in this episode, combining her travel experiences with her Iranian roots and time spent as a chef at Chez Panisse. Nosrat cooks a variety of dishes, including short ribs, steak, fava bean and roasted vegetable salad, and tag dig rice. Each of these meals combines her learnings about salt, fat, and acid with her final element of applying heat—the very essence of cooking. This episode serves as Nosrat’s thesis, demonstrating that with an intuitive sense of these flavors and elements, anyone can learn to be a great cook. Her argument brings simplicity and elegance to the often-intimidating realm of gourmet food.

— Caroline Bailey ’20


Tortoise Tuesday: Scholarly Conventions in the Kitchen

The first thing I learned in my mother’s kitchen is that you never, ever, sample measured ingredients. Unless, that is, you wanted to lose a finger. My mother is a master baker, and after nineteen years eating her breads, cookies, and pastries, I am convinced that there is nothing she cannot bake. But no matter what she bakes, the recipe is sacred. The first time she makes anything, she follows the recipe to the letter. The results aren’t always satisfactory, even when (as usually happens) everything goes as it should. Countless times, we’ve sat together at the table while she took tiny bites of a piece of cake, saying things like “well, the top-crust wasn’t quite what I would have liked,” or “the crumb would have been better with an extra egg yolk, don’t you think?” And then, of course, she would go back and make notes in the margin of the recipe in crisp cursive handwriting, and the next time she made the cake, it would really be her recipe, not the cook-book’s. But when it came time to bake, whatever the recipe is, she follows it.

I always wondered about this when I was little: my mother was such a fantastic baker, why didn’t she just improvise? Wasn’t she good enough to change the rules on the fly? At one point when we were baking together, I asked her just that. My timing wasn’t the best. She was beating egg-whites, and instead of answering the question, she kept her attention firmly on the electric beaters and told me to wait until the eggs were done. When the egg-whites were finally beaten, she told me (a bit hurriedly, since as she said, she needed to add the sugar quickly before the egg-whites fell) that cooking well is always about control. No matter how improvised a dish seemed to be, the cook could never lose control of the steps involved in its preparation. Changing things up, she said, was all just perfectly-prepared spontaneity. Then she motioned me to pass the 1-cup measure for the sugar, and the conversation ended abruptly as we both went back to baking.

A similar statement can be made about going against conventions in scholarly writing. When an author deliberately disregards a standard convention, the results are often striking. A single prosy sentence at the end of a paper can capture the author’s meaning better than a paragraph’s worth of explanation. But conventions, like recipes, are there for a reason, and wantonly ignoring them can lead to disaster. (Just imagine trying to read an analytical essay written in the same style as a Hemingway novel.) In writing and baking alike, control is key. The trick, of course, is to make your audience think you are completely free of constraint, while in reality, every break with convention is a conscious choice. As I learned from trying to improvise my way to a chocolate cake, you can change a recipe as you like, but it usually helps to know what you’re changing before you start, not after. Begin with something you know how to do, and modify it gradually until you get what you want. And of course, never take from the measured ingredients.

— Isabella Khan ’21