Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

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What’s the USP? According to the publishers, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is ‘The last cookbook you’ll ever need’, so by reviewing it, I’m risking consigning this blog to the dustbin of history. But of course, it’s not the last cookbook you’ll ever need; we all need new cookbooks all the time, one a day if possible (addicted, me? I beg your pardon!). What the book does, however, is attempt to codify the fundamentals of cooking so that the reader is freed, if they so wish to be, from the (delightful) tyranny of the recipe.   

Who is the author? Samin Nosrat is a writer, teacher and chef who has gone from working at Alice Water’s legendary Californian restaurant Chez Panisse to a being a culinary star thanks to the Netflix serialization of Salt, Fat Acid, Heat, her first book.

What does it look like? A great big comforting block of a book (it runs to over 470 pages) with a very distinctive look, from Rafaela Romaya’s eye-catching graphic cover design (illustrating what I’m assuming to be salt, fat, acid and heat at a molecular level) to Wendy MacNaughton’s charming colour hand-drawn illustrations (apart from headshots of Nosrat and MacNaughton, there are no photographs in the book).

Is it good bedtime reading? Divided into two halves, part one ‘The Four Elements of Good Cooking’ is nothing but bedtime, or anytime reading (part two is where you’ll find all the recipes). Four chapters explore Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat in turn, using Nosrat’s own experience cooking in professional kitchens and her culinary travels, mixed in with a dollop of easily understandable basic science and a generous helping of common sense to explain what cooking is and how you can understand the knowledge that will allow you to acquire the skill of cooking.   

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Nosrat takes a truly international approach to her subject, including recipes for anything from Vietnamese cucumber salad to classic American chicken pot pie with plenty of Italian pasta dishes along the way (not to mention food from North Africa, Mexico, Lebanon and on and on…), so inevitably you will come up against an ingredient or two that you might have to hunt around for, depending on how well you are served in your area by Asian supermarkets and other specialist suppliers. That said, the vast majority of recipes in the book should pose you no problem at all in the ingredients department.

What’s the faff factor? This is a book all about cooking, so expect to be doing a lot of it. The idea here is to learn and explore the techniques of cooking: braising, streaming, frying in all its forms, smoking, making stocks and sauces, baking etc. so don’t expect too many ‘meals-in-minutes’ (although the currently very trendy Roman pasta dish of Cacio e Pepe – spaghetti with pecorino cheese and loads of black pepper – literally takes only minutes to prepare). Nosrat is all about doing things properly, and not ‘cheffy’ flourishes. You won’t find yourself making endless fiddly garnishes that are best left to restaurant cooks, but you will need to be organized enough to marinate a chicken overnight to make Nosrat’s signature buttermilk-marinated roast chicken and then knock up a panzanella (Tuscan bread and tomato salad) to accompany it.

How often will I cook from the book? Despite the ‘cookery-course-in-a-single-volume’ conceit, this is not a book you will work through and then never look at again. The breadth and variety of recipes mean Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will provide inspiration for meals any time of the week, and for special occasions, for years to come.

Killer recipes? Those already mentioned above plus pork braised with chillies; chicken and garlic soup; spicy cima di rapa with ricotta salata; Lori’s Chocolate Midnight Cake; classic apple pie and many more.

What will I love? The look and feel of the book; it’s scope and ambition, the enthusiasm and care in the writing, the fact that you’re virtually getting two books (a 200-page treatise on cooking and a 200-page recipe book) for the price of one and the chance to hear a fresh new voice in food writing.

What won’t I like? As with any book that attempts to ‘deconstruct’ the practice of cooking or explain the underlying science behind cooking techniques, you may be left with the feeling of, so what? Do we need to understand that salt works by osmosis and diffusion or will the recipe for spicy brined turkey breast suffice? As a home cook of 35 years, it is interesting to see the subject from another angle but I’m not sure I’m a better cook for having read the book.

Although I loved the idea of the double-page fold-out charts and graphs, I’m not convinced of their practicality. If I consult ‘The World of Flavour’ wheel to check which ingredients I should be using when I’m cooking a dish from Argentina and Uruguay (parsley, oregano, chilli, paprika) what do I do with that information if I don’t already know that cuisine well? Unless I then refer to a recipe, which then makes the wheel redundant. From the ‘Ph of almost everything in Samin’s kitchen’ diagram, we ‘learn’ that lime is more acidic than black coffee; ‘the Avocado Matrix’ only serves to make something very simple – variations of avocado salad – head-spinningly complex, and I gave up trying to interpret the faintly ludicrous colour coded ‘Vegetables: How and When’ chart that seems to say that it’s OK to blanch potatoes but not sauté them – what!?

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat wouldn’t be the same book without MacNaughton’s lovely illustrations, but sometimes the accuracy of a photograph would have been welcome and more helpful; the drawings of how an egg changes minute by minute as it’s boiled are difficult to distinguish between, especially between 6 and 10 minutes, and the ‘Knife Cuts to Scale’ illustration is a little confusing; how thin actually are those thin slices of celery, and why is crumbled feta included at all (surely you do that with your fingers and not a knife?).

Should I buy it? Despite the reservations listed above, there is much to like about the book and it will be of particular value to those just starting out on their culinary adventure.  

Cuisine: International
Suitable for:
Beginner cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
4

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Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking: The Four Elements of Good Cooking

Slow-cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust by Yotam Ottolenghi

Slow-cooked chicken.png

This is a wonderful meal on an autumn day, served with a crisp green salad. The slow-cooked chicken is packed full of flavour and the crust – gluten-free, rich and corny – makes for a welcome (and lighter) change to a heavier mash. You can make the chicken well in advance if you want to get ahead: it keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days or can be frozen for 1 month. You want it to go into the oven defrosted, though, so it will need thawing out of the freezer. The batter needs to be made fresh and spooned on top of the chicken just before the dish gets baked, but it then can just go back in the oven. It can also be baked a few hours in advance – just warm through for 10 minutes, covered in foil, before serving. I love the combination of the chicken and the corn, but the chicken also works well as it is, served on top of rice, in a wrap or with a buttery jacket potato.

Serves six

3 tbsp olive oil
3 red onions, thinly sliced (500g)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsp rose harissa (or 50% more or less, depending on variety)(60g)
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
850g chicken thighs, skinless and boneless (about 9–10 thighs)
200ml passata
5 large tomatoes, quartered (400g)
200g jarred roasted red peppers, drained and cut into 2cm thick rounds
15g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
20g coriander, roughly chopped
salt and black pepper

SWEETCORN BATTER
70g unsalted butter,melted
500g corn kernels, fresh or frozen and defrosted (shaved corn kernels from 4 large corn cobs, if starting from fresh)
3 tbsp whole milk
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, on a medium high heat. Add the onions and fry for 8–9 minutes, stirring a few times, until caramelised and soft. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, harissa, paprika, chicken, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the passata and tomatoes. Pour over 350ml of water, bring to the boil, then simmer on a medium heat, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring every once in a while.

Add the peppers and chocolate and continue to simmer for another 35–40 minutes, with the pan now uncovered, stirring frequently, until the sauce is getting thick and the chicken is falling apart. Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander. If you are serving the chicken as it is (as a stew without the batter), it’s ready to serve (or freeze, once it’s come to room temperature) at this stage. If you are making the corn topping, spoon the chicken into a ceramic baking dish – one with high sides that measures about 20 x 30cm – and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan.

Pour the butter into a blender with the corn, milk, egg yolks and ¾ teaspoon salt. Blitz for a few seconds, to form a rough paste, then spoon into a large bowl. Place the egg whites in a separate clean bowl and whisk to form firm peaks. Fold these gently into the runny corn mixture until just combined, then pour the mix evenly over the chicken.

Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is golden-brown: keep an eye on it after 25 minutes to make sure the top is not taking on too much colour: you might need to cover it with tin foil for the final 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before serving.

Cook more from this book 
Braised eggs
Iranian herb fritters

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Iranian herb fritters by Yotam Ottolenghi

Iranian herb fritters.png

These can be snacked on as they are, at room temperature, or else served with a green tahini sauce and some extra herbs. If you want to make the tahini sauce then just blitz together 50g tahini, 30g parsley,½ crushed garlic clove, 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1∕8 tsp salt. Once this is all in the blender, blitz for 30 seconds and pour in 125ml water. Holding back on the water allows the parsley to get really broken up and turns the sauce as green as can be. This sauce is lovely spooned over all sorts of things – grilled meat and fish and roasted vegetables, for example – so double or triple the batch and keep it in the fridge. It keeps well for about 5 days. You might want to thin it with a little water or lemon juice to get it back to the right consistency.

These fritters are a bit of a fridge raid, using up whatever herbs you have around. As long as you keep the total net weight the same and use a mixture of herbs, this will still work wonderfully. The batter will keep, uncooked, for 1 day in the fridge.

Alternatively, pile the fritters into pitta bread with condiments: a combination of yoghurt, chilli sauce, pickled vegetables and tahini works well. You’d just need one fritter per person, rather than two.

Makes 8 fritters to serve 4–8 (depending on whether everyone is having one, in a pitta, or two as they are)

40g dill, finely chopped
40g basil leaves, finely chopped
40g coriander leaves, finely chopped
1½ tsp ground cumin 50g fresh breadcrumbs (about 2 slices, crusts left on if soft)
3 tbsp barberries (or currants)
25g walnut halves, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
8 large eggs, beaten
60ml sunflower oil, for frying
salt

Place all the ingredients, apart from the oil, in a large bowl with ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix well to combine and set aside.

Put 2 tablespoons of oil into a large non-stick pan and place on a medium high heat. Once hot, add ladles of batter to the pan.

Do 4 fritters at a time, if you can – you want each of them to be about 12cm wide – otherwise just do 2 or 3 at a time. Fry for 1–2 minutes on each side, until crisp and golden-brown. Transfer to a kitchen paper-lined plate and set aside while you continue with the remaining batter and oil.

Serve either warm or at room temperature.

Cook more from this book
Braised eggs
Slow cooked chicken

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Braised eggs with leek and za’atar by Yotam Ottolenghi

Braised eggs.pngServes six

This is a quick way to get a very comforting meal on the table in a wonderfully short amount of time. It’s a dish as happily eaten for brunch, with coffee, as it is for a light supper with some crusty white bread and a glass of wine. The leeks and spinach can be made up to a day ahead and kept in the fridge, ready for the eggs to be cracked in and braised.

30g unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil 2 large leeks (or 4 smaller), trimmed and cut into ½cm slices (530g)
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
2 small preserved lemons, pips discarded, skin and flesh finely chopped (30g)
300ml vegetable stock
200g baby spinach leaves
6 large eggs
90g feta broken into 2cm pieces
1 tbsp za’atar salt and black pepper

  1. Put the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, and place on a medium high heat. Once the butter starts to foam, add the leeks, ½ teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Fry for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the leeks are soft. Add the cumin, lemon and vegetable stock and boil rapidly for 4–5 minutes, until most of the stock has evaporated. Fold in the spinach and cook for a minute, until wilted, then reduce the heat to medium.
  2. Use a large spoon to make 6 indentations in the mixture and break one egg into each space. Sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of salt, dot the feta around the eggs, then cover the pan. Simmer for 4–5 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
  3. Mix the za’atar with the remaining tablespoon of oil and brush over the eggs. Serve at once, straight from the pan.

Cook more from this book
Iranian herb fritters
Slow cooked chicken

Read the review

Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi

Simple Ottolenghi

What’s the USP? The publishing phenomenon that is Yotam Ottolenghi returns with a seventh volume of his signature Middle Eastern-inflected food but this time, with colour-coded, simplified recipes for cooks who are short on time or just plain lazy.

Who’s the author? Ottolenghi is a world-famous cookery writer and restaurateur who has almost single-handedly brought Middle Eastern cuisine into the mainstream (although he would no doubt acknowledge the importance of ground-breaking writers such as Claudia Roden who wrote the definitive Book of Middle Eastern Food back in 1972). He runs NOPI and ROVI restaurants in London, alongside a group of four Ottolenghi deli’s dotted around the capital. He has filmed two series of Mediterranean Feasts for Channel 4 and Jerusalem on a Plate for the BBC.

What does it look like? Colourful. From the big lemon on the cover to the bright chapter headers (aubergine purple for Cooked Veg, marine blue for Fish, each accompanied by a charming graphic) and of course the always vibrant, multi-hued food, the book will bring a little ray of sunshine into your kitchen whatever the weather outside. And then there’s the six-step ‘traffic light’ recipe colour-coding using the acronym SIMPLE – an orange ‘S’ for ‘short on time’, a yellow ‘I’ for ‘ingredients: 10 or less’, a green M for ‘make ahead’, a blue P for ‘pantry’, a light green L for ‘lazy’ and a red ‘E’ for ‘easier than you think’.

Is it good bedtime reading? This is a straight up recipe book with an introduction that explains how the colour coding works and short recipe introductions that are often breezy, chatty and mostly about serving suggestions or alternative ingredients. A book for when you are looking for inspiration to cook rather than recreational reading.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Ottolenghi has been good enough to credit his two co-authors, food writer Tara Wigley and chef and recipe tester Esme Howarth and, between the three of them, they have produced a book of carefully written recipes that even give weights for herbs instead of ‘bunches’ or ‘handfuls’ and unusually, specify many ingredients by both number and weight, so you know for example that 2 small onions should equal about 250g. It’s a very useful and practical feature and one that should make the book particularly appealing to less confident cooks.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You shouldn’t have any problems tracking down everything you need, but if you do get stuck, good old Ottolenghi has his own web store, stocked with everything from black glutinous rice to dried sour cherries that will get you out of any purchasing hole. Handy eh?

What’s the faff factor? For a book titled Simple, there are a fair-few long ingredient lists and complicated methods.

How often will I cook from the book? Simple is one of those rare cookbooks where you’ll want to try every recipe so there’s no danger that it will sit sad and unused on your shelf.

Killer recipes? Standouts include gem lettuce with herby avocado and tahini ‘fridge-raid’ dressing that is bound to become part of your standard repertoire, and a wicked hazelnut, peach and raspberry cake that’s a cinch to make but tastes like your pastry chef sweated hours over it.

What will I love? The useful directory of  ‘Ottolenghi’ ingredients like sumac, za’atar and urfa chilli flakes that help define his cooking; the meal and feast suggestions that will help you plan your cooking, and the book’s upbeat, approachable style. A unique code is printed at the back of the book which gives access to a fully searchable online version of Simple which means you can cook from the book via your phone or tablet (or laptop) when you are away from home (or even if you are at home but don’t want to get pomegranate molasses stains on the pages of your beautiful new cookbook).

What won’t I like? Although the SIMPLE colour coding is a nice conceit, I’m not convinced of its practical use. A more straightforward indication of time to prepare and cook the dishes would be more useful in deciding which recipe to cook on any given day. And not all the recipes are even that simple; slow cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust for example has 16 ingredients and requires you to separate eggs, whisk up the whites and fold back into a corn batter to make the crust, in addition to a two-stage cooking process that will take well over an hour and half to complete (that said, the dish does look well worth the effort).

Should I buy it? If you are new to Ottolenghi, this is an excellent place to start and if you are a converted fan then you will want to add this to your collection.

Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Ottolenghi SIMPLE

Cook from this book
Braised eggs
Iranian herb fritters
Slow cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust

Quince tart with gingerbread ice cream by Simon Rogan

Quince Tart

MAKES 8

Gingerbread
80g unsalted butter
50g molasses
400g plain flour
250g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
50ml whole milk
80g preserved stem ginger (from a jar)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
50g fresh ginger
2 eggs

Gingerbread ice cream
500ml whole milk
2 egg yolks
25g caster sugar
½ tsp salt
125g gingerbread, from recipe above, roughly broken into chunks
Pastry
270g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
150g unsalted butter, softened
75g soft light brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg

Poached quince
1 quince
350ml red wine
250g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 195°C/175°C Fan/Gas Mark 5, grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin and line it with baking parchment.

To make the gingerbread, melt the butter and the molasses in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Once melted, remove from the heat and leave to one side. Mix the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest together in a large bowl. Blitz the milk, stem ginger, cinnamon, ground ginger and fresh ginger in a small food processor until smooth, then pass through a fine sieve. Beat the eggs in a bowl and mix with the ginger milk, then add the molasses mix. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients little by little, until fully incorporated.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes. Once cooked (a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean), remove from the oven and leave to cool. Remove from the tin and cut into suitable size 125g pieces, wrap each piece in cling film and freeze.

To make the ice cream, bring the milk to the boil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Combine the egg yolks, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl. Gradually pour the hot milk into the yolk and sugar mixture, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Return to the pan and cook over a low heat until the temperature of the mixture reaches 80°C (check with a thermometer), stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add the fresh or defrosted from frozen gingerbread, then allow to cool. Blitz in a blender until smooth then churn in an ice-cream maker until frozen. Transfer the ice cream to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and keep in the freezer.

While the ice cream is churning, make the tart bases. Mix the flour and the butter together by hand in a bowl until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then add the sugar, salt and egg and keep mixing until you have a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest for 1 hour. Once rested, dust a work surface with flour, unwrap the dough and roll it out to a thickness of 3mm.

Cut to size with a cutter or upside-down small bowl to fit eight 4cm small tart tins. Line the tins with the pastry, pushing the pastry all the way down the sides, lightly prick the base of the tartlets and line them with greaseproof paper and a few baking beans. Bake blind for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Peel and cut the core away from the quince. In a small, heavy-based saucepan bring the wine and 200g of the sugar to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, add the quince and simmer for 18–20 minutes, or until the quince are just tender but still have a little bite. Remove from the heat and leave the quince to cool in the wine.

Cut the cooled quince into 5mm dice. Make a caramel with the remaining sugar: heat the sugar in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat, without stirring, until it begins to melt, then start to stir and keep stirring until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Cook for about 10 minutes until the sugar is a dark honey colour.

Remove from the heat and add the butter, whisking constantly. Add the diced quince to the pan and cook for a further 30 seconds. Remove the caramelised quince from the pan and allow to cool.

Place a small amount of the quince in each tart case then pipe a rosette of ice cream on top to cover and serve immediately.

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Smoked lamb shoulder

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Coming soon

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Rogan

Smoked lamb shoulder by Simon Rogan

Smoked Lamb Shoulder

SERVES 6–8

Lamb shoulder
400g coarse sea salt
1 lamb shoulder (about 2.8–3kg)
100g soft light brown sugar
200g granulated sugar
20g garlic powder
50g smoked paprika
50g sweet paprika
6 star anise
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tbsp juniper berries
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp coriander seeds

Runner beans
500g young, tender runner beans, such as Tenderstar
40g unsalted butter
salt, for seasoning

enough wood smoking chips to create an even layer in the baking tray
Lamb Jus (SEE RECIPE AT END OF MAIN RECIPE), to serve

Dissolve 300g of the salt in 1.5 litres of water in a large bowl. Submerge the lamb shoulder in the brine and put it in the fridge for 24 hours. The next day, rinse the shoulder under cold running water and pat it dry with kitchen paper. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a bowl, including the 100g salt, and rub into the shoulder.

Put the smoking chips in a nice even layer in a large roasting tin lined with foil. Sit a wire rack on top, one that is a similar size to the roasting tin, making sure the wire isn’t touching the chips. Put the shoulder on the rack and cover the entire rack and tin with a tent of foil, so no smoke escapes. Sit the tin on the hob over a low–medium heat for 10 minutes. Remove the covered tin from the heat and allow the shoulder to smoke in the foil tent for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/130°C Fan/Gas Mark 2. Transfer the smoked lamb shoulder to a clean baking tray, place in the oven and cook for 4 hours until tender.

Top and tail the runner beans and remove the stringy sides. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the butter and cook the beans for 3 minutes. Drain.

Serve the lamb in the middle of the table with a jug of sauce for guests to help themselves and with the runner beans and confit potatoes in a large bowl alongside.

LAMB JUS

2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1kg lamb bones
3 litres White Chicken Stock (RECIPE BELOW)

WHITE CHICKEN STOCK
3kg chicken wings

Roughly chop the chicken wings and put them in a large,heavy-based saucepan with 5 litres of water. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2–3 hours, skimming occasionally. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, the strain through a muslin-lined sieve. Keep the stock covered in the fridge and use within 3–4 days, or freeze and use within 3 months.

To make the lamb jus, warm the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a low heat, add the vegetables and cook for 2–3 hours, stirring regularly, until completely soft and no moisture is left in the pan.

Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C Fan/Gas Mark 7. Put the lamb bones in a roasting tin and roast for 40 minutes, or until deeply golden. Add the bones to the pan with the vegetables, reserving the fat for the potatoes. Deglaze the roasting tin with 200ml water and add it to the pan. Cover with the chicken stock and bring to the boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours over a low heat, skimming it regularly. Strain through a fine sieve into another heavy-based saucepan then reduce the stock over a medium heat to a sauce consistency.

Cook more from this book
Radish stew
Quince tart

Read the review
Coming soon

Buy this book 
Rogan