The final episode of Netflix’s culinary docuseries Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat explores how different types of heat impact flavor and texture. After heading to Italy for a lesson in cooking with fat, Japan for a crash-course in salt, and Mexico for a tutorial in using acid in the kitchen, chef/author Samin Nosrat returns to her adopted hometown of Berkeley, California to examine how heat changes the texture and flavor of ingredients. The episode notably includes a lesson in live fire cooking filmed at Chez Panisse, the California cuisine institution where Nosrat got her start in the kitchen.
What does Samin learn about heat in this episode?
For grilling, Nosrat explains that it’s best to avoid cooking directly over an open flame and instead cook over hot coals in lower temperature zones to get an even cook. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re cooking over a stove, an open fire, or in a slow cooker,” she says. “The goal is always the same: Apply the right level of heat so that the surface of your food and the interior are done cooking at the same time.”
When cooking poultry, Nosrat recommends allowing the bird to come up to room temperature for an hour or more to ensure it cooks evenly. If not, it might burn on the exterior and come out raw inside. When it comes to her recipe for whole roasted buttermilk chicken, the fat and acid in the buttermilk is “the most delicious kind of insurance,” she says. The buttermilk will prevent the bird from drying out if it stays in the oven a bit too long. She also notes that when roasting the chicken, it’s important to face the legs towards the back of the oven where it’s hottest to allow for more even cooking. Poultry cooks in two stages and should be given some time to rest after roasting so that the muscle can relax.
Using a bean and vegetable salad as an example, Nosrat also explores how heat changes different types of legumes and greens. For white beans, she recommends simmering rather than boiling. When beans are boiled they don’t cook evenly and often break apart. For the vegetables, Nosrat recommends using a separate pan for each type of vegetable to allow them to cook at their own pace. “High heat reorganizes aromatic compounds in our food and produces deep savory flavors that don’t exist in the pale versions,” she explains.
In addition to lessons on the principles of heat in cooking, Nosrat also discusses how to shop at the grocery store for basic ingredients and how to select the right type of salt for different styles of cooking.
Who cooks alongside Nosrat, and where does she visit?
At Chez Panisse, Nosrat learns the nuances of chef Amy Dencler’s use of open flame grilling. Dencler creates several “heat zones” in the fire by moving around different temperatures of coals so that things like steaks cook evenly on the grill. Nosrat then visits the Berkeley Bowl West grocery store where she and the butcher discuss the role that fat content plays in building flavor for meat dishes.
At home, Nosrat prepares a bean and roasted vegetable salad with her illustrator and friend Wendy MacNaughton, who did the illustrations for the book version of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Later, Nosrat invites her mother Shahla Nosrat to her house to help discuss the process of steaming and frying through the making of tahdig — a Persian rice dish that features a crunchy brown crust.
Shahla does several things to achieve the right texture in the dish: She adds lots of salt to the water that she uses to boil the rice (until the water tastes like “seawater”). She then uses an oil that can handle high heat and lets it sizzle. In order to avoid creating a soggy tahdig, Samin’s mom also wraps the pot lid in a towel to reduce moisture during the frying process. Butter is poured in last so it doesn’t burn.
What are the episode’s most quotable moments?
“One of the valuable lessons I learned at Chez Panisse was that you don’t have to use expensive ingredients to make good food. All you need to find are simple, quality staples and to treat them with respect. So knowing what to look for is your first step on the way to a good meal.” — Nosrat, on how to make good meals at home
“People always treat meat and expensive ingredients as the most luxurious foods, but someone who took the time to cook three different vegetables and a pot of beans, and pick a whole bunch of herbs and make this, that’s like true decadence.” — Nosrat, on the luxury of a really delicious and thoughtfully-made bean and roasted veggie salad
“Tahdig test: It’s the first test before the ‘give birth to a child’ test” — Nosrat, on the importance of making good tahdig as a woman in Iranian culture
“I think a big part of what keeps people out of the kitchen is that they feel like they have no agency, no power, no knowledge, and so there’s a way that if they’re involved in just a tiny bit of the process, they take away that knowledge and they feel empowered.” — Nosrat, on why she has people help her cook at dinner parties
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