So I’ve had Salt Fat Acid Heat on my TBR list for a while, and to be honest I’d kind of forgotten about it. Then I decided to go to the library and wander a bit because the library had just reopened after some county budget shenanigans nearly shut it down, threatening to defund it. So in addition to the manga section (I may have raided that too) I went browsing the cookbooks. In some ways this seems also like a misclassification for this book except it’s not.
The first 200 pages have no recipes. Instead there is an in-depth exploration of the four titular components without which cooking would not be possible or at least not good. In addition to the science, the author also tells a lot of little stories about her time in famous kitchens, mostly at Chez Panisse to illustrate points about the element of focus. For example, she describes as a young cook having to make polenta, and being told to season (ie-salt) it more, and being horrified at first when a senior chef threw in three entire handfuls of salt, except that in doing so, he actually vastly improved things. Also included are little experiments and graphs/diagrams. Sometimes I’m not sure if the experiments are supposed to be tried out (what would you do with the results of treating two halves of a chicken differently with salt to illustrate the results in texture) , but others I wanna try (making your own crème fraiche using cream and buttermilk to consider the power of acid). The diagrams are equally hit or miss. Some of them aren’t intuitive to read and some use multiple shades of the same color which are really close, while others actually show how to do something or provide a way to make your own thing with some flavor guidance.
Then there’s the recipes. There’s an irony here since the author says that recipes are dumbing cooking down and taking away creative control from the cook. The recipes, which aren’t always recipes- sometimes it’s a diagram of possible things to put together- are pretty standard fare like coleslaw as a salad, cacio e pepe as a pasta, pan fried chicken in poultry, and pumpkin pie under dessert.
Overall, this book has some really interesting bits, and the illustrations are done in an aesthetic I appreciate (no photos- which in some ways actually helps). I just think there may be more interesting options if you’re actually looking for ideas of what to make tonight.