In the premiere episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, chef and author Samin Nosrat’s just-released Netflix series based on her book of the same name, Nosrat tackles fat, which adds both flavor and texture to a dish. She travels to Italy, a place where she lived early in her culinary career, and where locals “are masters at using fat to make their food absolutely, fantastically, almost impossibly delicious.”
What does Samin learn about fat in this episode?
Nosrat takes a crash course in extra virgin olive oil, which she believes is Italy’s greatest form of culinary fat. The olives that produce this elixir are never heated; instead, the oil is pressed out, similar to a cold-pressed juice. The good stuff should have three main flavor components: fruity, peppery, and bitter. If any of those are missing, or if one component overpowers the others, it isn’t the good stuff.
Nosrat learns how to make focaccia in the traditional way of Liguria, Italy, which means the bread must never be more than about two inches tall when it comes out of the oven. The dough is slathered in olive oil, which imparts a fruity flavor, a good crumb, and a crunchy crust. That’s followed by a tutorial in pesto, which uses fats from pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil, to form a sauce.
If olive oil is Italy’s greatest fat, parmesan may be a close second. Nosrat takes in the cheese-making process at an artisanal factory and concludes her tour with a tasting of rounds that have been aged for 24, 36, and 40 months. A first taste of the youngest cheese literally brings tears to her eyes, and the flavors only get more powerful from there.
Cooking with fat does not always mean cooking in fat. The fats that reside in animals, such as hogs, are responsible for providing flavor to meat.
Who teaches Samin about fat, and where does she visit?
Nosrat gets her lesson in olive oil from Paolo and Franco Roi, brothers and proprietors of the lauded Olio Roi company, at their olive orchard and factory. In Liguira, she visits with a chef named Lidia, who Nosrat simply calls la nonne, and her friend Diego. These two share their wisdom in the arts of pesto and focaccia.
Lorenzo Chini, a Tuscan butcher who can traces his family’s business in the meat business to the 1600s, transforms a whole pig into a selection of salumi at his shop Macelleria Chini. And cheese-makers Mauro Montipo and Tania Barbieri, of the Consorzio Vacche Rosse, explain why parmesan made from the milk of rare red cows is so special.
Nosrat closes out the episode cooking ragù, which is built on olive oil, pork fat, beef fat, and fresh pasta with iconic Italian chef and author Benedetta Vitali.
What are some of the most quotable moments from this episode?
“A good olive oil must have three parameters: It’s fruity, spicy, and bitter. In your mouth, you must feel at least a bit of spiciness, because if it’s spicy, it’s alive. It’s a flavor that remains in your mouth. So, if you drink it and that’s all, it’s not a good olive oil. But if you drink it, and after a minute you still feel the oily sensation in your mouth, that’s a good olive oil.” — Paolo Roi, on what qualifies as olive oil
“In English, we have this saying: ‘high on the hog.’ So when you are wealthy or you just got a big paycheck, it’s the same. The idea of the noble fat, or the noble cuts, are the highest parts of the pig, literally. So these parts here are food for the rich people — the pancetta or the bacon, the tenderloin here, it’s under all this fat.” — Nosrat, on the cuts of pork traditionally reserved for the upper class
“Over the centuries, Italians have perfected the art of using fat to transform the simplest ingredients into a great meal.” — Nosrat, on the secret to Italian cuisine