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