The second episode of chef and cookbook author Samin Nosrat’s new Netflix series, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat — which is adapted from her James Beard Award-winning book of the same name — focuses on salt. Nosrat travels to Japan to gain some knowledge on the element that she says “enhances flavor, and even makes food taste more like itself.”
Throughout the episode, Nosrat prepares short ribs in her home kitchen. She salts the beef immediately and returns it to the refrigerator before applying a marinade of soy sauce, miso, and mirin. The short ribs are braised in a mixture of dashi — a Japanese broth made of kobu (dried seaweed) and katsuobushi (dried, smoked fish) — and served alongside quick-boiled green beans, rice, and salt-cured pickles.
What does Samin learn about salt in this episode?
First of all, the diversity of Japan’s salt scene is much greater than the average American might anticipate. There are 4,000 different types of salt in the county, with flavor and level of saltiness determined by the production and size of the final grains. Unlike other places where sea salt is harvested from water alone, the Japanese make their moshio from dried seaweed. Nosrat learns this gives the final product a greater depth of flavor.
In Japan, the seasoning of a dish isn’t derived from salt alone; there are other products which provide saltiness and umami. Nosrat tastes miso that is aged for three years and is unlike any version she has previously tried. She also takes in the traditional method for making soy sauce, which involves century-old wooden barrels. Industrial soy sauce ferments for three months, but this artisanal variety stays in the barrels for two years. There is just one company that still produces the barrels necessary for this method, and the survival of traditional soy sauce depends on this company’s business.
Who teaches Samin about salt, and where does she visit?
Nosrat opens the episode in an unnamed salt shop, going through a tasting with a clerk. She learns the finer the salt, the more immediate punch of saltiness on her tongue. She then travels to Kami-kamagari island with her chef friend, Yuri, and learns how sea salt is made at the Moshio Salt Factory.
On Shodo island, the host visits with food writer Nancy Singleton Hachisu and learns the art of miso from a woman named Kazumi, who is declared to be a “miso master.” Nosrat’s lesson in soy sauce comes from Yasuo Yamamoto, proprietor of Yamaroku Shoyu, where the traditional version is made.
Near the end of the episode, Nosrat, Hachisu, and Yuri prepare a meal in Hachisu’s home. They make boiled eggs seasoned with miso, tai meshi, a soup comprised of the Japanese tai fish, dashi, and rice. Nosrat and Yuri procure the fish from the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.
What are some of the most quotable moments from this episode?
“That’s so good, that’s just so clean. It’s really like Japanese cooks have figured out how to use every part of the ocean.” — Nosrat, tasting a bite of sashimi seasoned with mochio
“The single most important element to good cooking is salt. When you perfectly season something, it zings in your mouth.” — Nosrat, on the necessity of salt
“I don’t make the soy sauce. The microorganisms make it. I just create an environment where they can thrive. They live inside these barrels and on the surface. The wooden material has air pockets they can inhabit. I check on them every day, and I talk to them. My microorganisms work harder when someone is watching. … The harder they work, the tastier the sauce becomes.” — Yamamoto, on the science of making traditional soy sauce
“The more I travel and taste the different cuisines of the world, the more I realize that good cooking is universal. The ingredients may change, but the fundamentals are the same, and it all begins with salt.” — Nosrat, on salt being the universal ingredient of delicious food