The Netflix documentary hosted by author and chef Samin Nosrat features artisans doing culinary arts the old way
Because some of us still have to stay home, why not watch the documentary “Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” on Netflix? The host and author of the book with the same title is Samin Nosrat, born in Iran but whose family migrated to the United States before the revolution, and whose cooking and teaching career spans some 18 years, including a spell at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
When it came out in 2018, the book received awards such as the James Beard general cookbook of the year, Fortnum and Mason debut cookbook, the International Association of Culinary Professionals cookbook of the year, and the same group’s Julia Child First Book award.
The title has the four basic elements of cooking. In the documentary, each element brings her to different countries that she believes illustrates the use of each to perfection. And at each place, there is cooking and, thankfully, the recipes are on salfatacidheat.com. I also recommend watching the documentary because Nosrat features artisans who do things the old way.
“Fat” takes Nosrat to Italy where she lived for a while and speaks the language. The cooking there is defined by the fat used, olive oil. She goes to Liguria, where the olives are supposed to produce the best oil in the country.
But there is another kind of fat, pork fat, the kind that produces the best sausages and hams (prosciutto, soppressata, salami) that Italy is known for. If the Spanish have their black Iberian pigs, the Italians have their Cinta Senese, quite fatty pigs whose fats exude the scent of egg yolk, walnuts, acorns and chocolate.
Another illustration of “Fat” is cheese, and Nosrat goes to a Parmesan maker who claims that the breed called vache rose or red cows produce the sweetest milk.
“Salt” takes the chef to Japan, where a merchandiser says there are 4,000 kinds of salt in the country. One of them is the Moshio salt which is obtained from seaweed. The process involves harvesting seaweed from the waters of Hondowara, drying it for a day, and bringing it to a factory where it is immersed in water to bring out the salt crystals that go through a dehydrator.
Miso is another ingredient that contributes that salty taste to Japanese food. Nosrat visits a miso maker who demonstrates the old way of steaming soy beans, then adding water, koji rice and salt, placing it in clay jars with a weight on top then storing it for three years.
Nosrat then goes to a soy sauce maker who still uses wooden barrels when fermenting the moromi or the mix of soy beans, wheat, salt and water for two years. The ancient method is done by very few artisans, so when a new barrel was ordered by the soy sauce maker, he was told that the last order before his was right after World War II.
“Acid” takes Nosrat to Mexico, where escabeche best illustrates sourness. It is not vinegar that is used by the Spanish who introduced the cooking there but sour orange (naranja agria). The escabeche most of us know is the Spanish word for the sweet and sour sauce used for fried fish. But in Leyte, escabeche is mostly sour sauce colored with turmeric.
In the taqueria, the chef noted that acid is seen in the different salsas used to perk up the tacos sold there. She tried some of them—chili with white onion, radish with cilantro and sour orange, lemoncito as is and the really hot seasoned chili habanero.
Then it was illustrated that honey can be acidic when she went to Tixcalcaltuyub, a place that still uses the Maya method of making the sour honey. It is said that the Mayas also trained the bees not to sting but also built canals near the boxes containing the bees so the ants would not get to the Melipona honey, quite different in that it is clear and sour.
For “Heat,” Nosrat stayed close to “home,” her residence and at Chez Panisse. When using heat in cooking, she said, the cook chooses whether to use intense heat or gentle heat.
At Chez Panisse, head chef Amy Dencler demonstrated how she cooks steak in a hearth, pushing the fire at the back, distributing the embers to the different parts of the beef that need less or more heat. It was like watching our lechoneros cook the whole pig.
Nosrat also gave an important lesson—the heat is at the back of the oven so when roasting chicken, the legs have to go in there because those take longer to cook than the breast.
Actually, throughout the documentary, Nosrat imparted important lessons:
1. Heat the pan or pot first before putting in the oil.
2. Olive oil turns rancid after a while so use it right away.
3. Resting the roast will distribute the juices.
4. Salt the meat then store it in the freezer before cooking it so the salt will do its work of seasoning.
5. Using iodized salt will make your food taste metallic (another argument against iodizing our salt). INQ
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