The book amounts to an incredibly engaging master class that helps free you from recipes so you can improvise like a pro. Nosrat’s approach is foundational yet innovative: distilling the essence of cooking into four main concerns. With a full understanding of how each element effects flavor and texture, a home cook can easily extrapolate and apply these principles to unfamiliar ingredients or dishes and still cook with confidence.
In her opening section on salt, for instance, Nosrat explains how food absorbs salt to become seasoned throughout. Yes, terms like osmosis and diffusion appear, but even if you’re not particularly into all the science background, Nosrat breaks down the chemistry so approachabley it’d make Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson bump fists. She goes on to describe how salt affects particular foods, like meat, seafood, veggies, legumes, and eggs, offering the most effective strategies for seasoning each. She takes the trouble to offer up a chart—her hand-drawn illustrations are as whimsical as they are instructive—showing optimal salting measurements for various foods depending on which kind of salt you use, e.g., Morton’s or Diamond Crystal kosher salt, table salt, etc.
While Nosrat overlooks no detail in her comprehensive lessons, they feel inspiring rather than exhausting, due in no small part to her relaxed and encouraging tone. She even stretches beyond her four main subjects to include essays like “Balance, Layering, and Restraint,” a brief treatise on core cooking principles that many accomplished chefs still struggle to master, though it’s never too early to begin practicing.
While you don’t need a science background to appreciate Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, intellectual curiosity is a must. A cook who asks herself “Why?” just as often as “How?” is much more likely to absorb and apply this tutelage than one who simply wants to replicate good recipes. The curious cook will eventually find her copy of this book stained and dog-eared, as she consults its essential kitchen wisdom for years to come.