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The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 8:11 pm
by RoamingFrancis
At long last, after a particularly lengthy library book reservation, I have managed to get a copy of Samin Nosrat's Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. This will be my new culinary Bible; I will study it and use this thread to deliver culinary sermons.

Unlike most cults I have led, heathenry is actively encouraged here. I will document my notes, analyses, and experiments inspired by the book. Please challenge me and tell me my technique's shitty. This is primarily a project to document my learning.

The book, rather self-evidently, theorizes that great cooking can be analyzed and understood by looking at the four elements in the title: salt, fat, acid, and heat. It is broken into sections analyzing each of these elements, and is followed by a chunky section of recipes to try.* Theory and praxis. Pariyatti and pattipatti, if you want to go Buddhist on that shit. I'll read the theory all the way through and report on anything interesting/important that I learned. Then I'll hoist the sails, pull up the anchor, throw some shit in a pan, and write about it. Hopefully I'll become a better cook along the way.

¡La aventura comienza!

*Note that there is a difference between a chunky section of recipes and a section of chunky recipes. The recipes, I believe, are not meant to be chunky.

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 8:28 pm
by Alphaville
i haven’t read the book, but i saw the netflix show, which was a ton of fun.

the content wasn’t exactly new territory for me, but she got me thinking more about the role of acid, so that i’m now more mindful about using it. i enjoyed her tv persona a lot, and i’d really like to see another series.

heathenry: i’ve started using citric acid and vitamin c powder in the kitchen. esto no es naranja agria pero todo vale.

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Fri Sep 18, 2020 1:32 am
by davtheram12
Fantastic book! I got a copy of the book shortly after I watched the Netflix mini series. It's one of the more enjoyable cook books I've come across since the first half is written like a textbook. She does a great job explaining the 'how' and 'why' of cooking while also making it fun and interesting. But with that being said, its packed with a lot of information. I found myself reading a paragraph, annotating the book, giving it some thought, rereading the same paragraph and then momentarily walking away. It wasnt frustrating but some information needed to be internalized before moving forward to the next paragraph. It's a great book for those looking to expand their skill set.

I look forward to reading your thoughts on the book as you work your way through it :) good luck and enjoy the cooking adventure

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Wed Sep 30, 2020 9:26 am
by RoamingFrancis

I've set aside one hour just to write down my thoughts on the chapter regarding salt. This is for my own selfish understanding, so I skip parts I deem unimportant or that I already understand.

In my own cooking, I have shifted away from iodized salt, as per Nosrat’s suggestion. I really prefer Kosher salt, but there’s a big box of Morton’s uniodized table salt at the place where I’m staying, so that’s what I’ll be using for the foreseeable future.

One of Nosrat’s most important ideas is presented on page 26. Here is where she defines flavor, as consisting of three elements: taste, aroma, and miscellaneous sensory elements. The miscellaneous category includes texture, temperature, appearance, etc. From my own experience, I think texture and temperature are the most important. Taste is the classically defined five tastes of saltiness, sourness, bitterness, sweetness, and umami. Aroma is the smell. All three combine in her conception of flavor, so the key is to understand how salt interacts with this model.

I suspect this model will be the conceptual basis for understanding all other modules of the cooking process, so I’ll make a model of it here:


A note about spiciness: I was reading elsewhere about the physiology of spiciness, and spiciness is apparently caused by activating free endings of the trigeminal nerve present in the tongue. Physiologically speaking, it’s considered a form of chemical pain, not a taste in the same way that the Five Classical Tastes are. I gave it its own bubble, connected to aroma and miscellaneous, because I think that certain dishes can be “aromatically spicy,” whereas others are an all out attack on the nerve endings. I think it’s included it both.

Anywho, back to salt. It affects both the aroma and taste modules, as salt can unlock certain aromatic compounds, as well as de-emphasizing the bitterness sub-module. I tested this by taking a shot of distilled white vinegar — NOT recommended — and then trying again, after adding salt. I still would not recommend it, even with salt, but the second shot was much more manageable.

My eyes are still watering.

Importantly, Nosrat recommends that one continually taste the food throughout the entire cooking process and continually add more salt if needed.

Salt’s Effects on Specific Foods

As a vegetarian, I’m exempt from several food categories. Salt makes eggs more moist and tender. Most plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, etc) contain a protein called pectin, which salt weakens and thus makes the food less tough. When food is cooked in water, it should be an isometric solution to avoid nutrient and flavor loss.

Important Equation

Diffusion Rate = Time * Temperature * Quantity of Water

Techniques for Balancing Oversalted Dishes

Nosrat has a couple recommendations for damage control. One can dilute with unseasoned ingredients, thus increasing dish volume. If necessary, only use a fraction of the overseasoned portion and save the rest in the fridge.

She suggests that in some cases, a bit of acid or fat can balance out the salt. Food cooked in liquid can have the water replaced with a hypotonic solution to draw out seasoning.

EDIT: Don't know if my model posted. Here's a link:

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Wed Sep 30, 2020 9:50 am
by Alphaville
nice to see you cogitating on these matters.

i’ll throw in some comments

re: salt

morton’s kosher is mixed with anticaking, so i avoid it, and use diamond crystal which is only nacl. morton’s table has anticaking plus iodine. i eat seaweed (and eggs) for iodine.

regarding the “kosher” label, people use it in confusing ways, because “kosher” salt in chef’s context means koshering salt, which is for removing blood from meat, and it’s a peculiar fluffy texture that pulverizes easy.

kosher salt can also mean it’s kosher to eat it (eg no insects) but it doesn’t have the texture or low density required of the other stuff. thus a lot of labels stamp “kosher” on the thing but it’s not the kosher nosrat means. beware of this when shopping.

i also use sea salt in the coarse and fine varieties. first, it’s got some trace minerals, bla bla bla, whatever. but it’s also cheaper than diamond crystal which can be hard to find outside of restaurant supply. and for some purposes it’s the same. e.g. ken forkish uses seasalt for baking. and since you go by weight with a jewelers scale, gradual dosing allowed by kosher salt is irrelevant. coarse sea salt has its uses too, like you can sprinkle on granola or crust pretzels. i like it for making sauerkraut because it helps break down the cabbage.

last, i use maldon salt for “finishing.” this is what you sprinkle on top of what you’re about to eat and it can be fantastic because it’s got this big snowflake shape but it’s not hard like coarse seasalt. perfect, say, on top of some sautéed green beans or a chocolate bonbons (i’m using some vegetarian examples for you here). i use them on peanuts mixed with honey to balance the sweet. it’s quite pricey but it lasts forever because you’re not using it to boil spaghetto.

there are also flavored salts etc. and i’ve had them as gifts but i don’t buy them myself.

re: heat+salt(+acid), score yourself some tajín. great with fruit! i like the habanero version (yellow). but more of a summer treat for me. same as drinking a salty dog.

in the fall, my region is all about the roasted green chile, which combines heat + beautiful beautiful beautiful smoke.

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Thu Oct 01, 2020 2:51 am
by Miss Lonelyhearts
I like her but I wouldn’t join the cult. If you want to use kosher salt but don’t want to toss the iodized stuff you have around, save it for pasta water, soups, etc — applications where it’s dissolved and the coarser texture of kosher or sea salt won’t be missed.

+1 for Diamond Crystal. It’s a few bucks (like $4 I think?!) but a 3lb box has lasted me years and a lot of cooking.

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Thu Oct 01, 2020 8:00 am
by RoamingFrancis
Good idea. I don't want to waste something that's perfectly good — that's for grocery stores to do!

I'll look into the Diamond Crystal, thanks.

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Thu Oct 01, 2020 8:43 am
by Alphaville
it’s also a good household/cleaning supply, and if you don’t get iodine from other sources, just dose yourself with it:

plus, it you have a salt shaker, that’s what goes in the salt shaker. table salt is made for it. and french fries are made for the salt shaker. so, if you like french fries,,,

additionally, some good arguments for table salt to be found here: ... 1825339548


ps but if still looking for kosher salt (i like it) i recommend diamond crystal over morton’s. that writer says she used morton’s kosher, so the comparison is apples to oranges. diamond crystal is not “coarse,” it’s fluffy, and it rubs into a fine powder.

eta: i think the idea here is to play with salt and learn the different sizes and densities and textures and optimal uses. it’s a cheap way to have fun, even with the pricier stuff. that article mentions sel gris as a choice finishing salt, which is superyummy: we got some tins from france from a friend, and they’re long gone now, but what a nice nice nice time we had sprinkling sel gris on things—sometimes directly on the tip of the tongue. i think of it and my tongue tingles and i start salivating. making pavlovian conditionings beats “making memories” :lol:

eta, 2: here more haaa haaa haaa ... osher-salt

salt: it’s a deep rabbit hole. have fun!

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Mon Oct 12, 2020 3:55 pm
by RoamingFrancis
Finished reading the fat chapter. A lot of the information presented has to do with pastries, so I just skimmed those parts.

Some notes:
  • Smoke point - temperature at which a fat decomposes and turns into smoke

Crispiness results from the food's contact with a hot fat + water evaporating from the surface. To get a crisp surface and a tender center, you have to cook at the optimal temperature. Too high gets you a crust and with a raw center, and too low results in little crust. For long-cooking foods, reduce heat after the crust forms.

Creaminess and Emulsions
  • An emulsion is a temporary mix of polar and non-polar molecules. Does anyone know how the science behind this works?
  • One can add an "emulsifier" for stabilization; this is like a third party mediator that prevents the emulsion from breaking up. Maybe one end is hydrophobic and one end is hydrophilic? Or likes fat? Like a dissolved cell membrane or something?
  • Butter sweats because it's a solid emulsion; when it heats up, the water separates from the fat as it melts.
Flaky and Tender
  • Gluten is composed of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin
  • Mixing flour and liquid causes the proteins to form long chains. Kneading/mixing/working the dough causes this to develop into extensive webs and networks. The more needing, the tougher the dough.
  • Salt increases network strength, too much fat can inhibit it
  • To achieve tenderness/flakiness/moistness, one must keep gluten development under control.

Homework assignment: Make mayonnaise, fix a broken mayonnaise, make a butter sauce

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Mon Oct 12, 2020 6:10 pm
by ertyu
Good to know: proper bread has more protein than croissants and filo dough and other such. Cool. TIL. I will feel less guilty about eating hard bread now.

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Mon Oct 12, 2020 7:12 pm
by Alphaville
RoamingFrancis wrote:
Mon Oct 12, 2020 3:55 pm

and nice bunch of concepts there, great approaches to flavor and texture for delicious results.

once you're done with these techniques i'd recommend a book on good and cheap cooking. free ebook too, she made it for people on food stamps ($120/mo.) i think it was her master's thesis on nutrition or something:

this could actually help your budget plan. it's not vegan, tends more towards ovo-lacto vegetarian, with many vegan dishes, and meat is rarely mentioned there; and when it is, it's alongside a vegetarian option.

oh btw_ if you don't use eggs for emulsifier you can buy soy lecithin (lecithin abounds in egg yolk... and the human brain)
ertyu wrote:
Mon Oct 12, 2020 6:10 pm
Good to know: proper bread has more protein than croissants and filo dough and other such. Cool. TIL. I will feel less guilty about eating hard bread now.
i'm not sure how you meant this; but the protein is there in the flour whether you develop the gluten or not.

developing gluten means giving it a long elastic structure so that it can hold co2 bubbles from yeast fermentation; but protein is protein whether organized or not.

now, bread flour (britishism: "strong flour") is higher in protein. chosen this way so that it can develop a stronger gluten. all purpose/plain flour is in the middle. cake flour is starchier and sometimes even treated with chlorine (yuck): this is why cakes are crumblier.

but see, funny thing: phyllo dough is made with bread flour to allow that thin paperlike stretch. if it were low protein flour, it would crumble.

highest protein wheat is durum variety btw. so don't fear the cheap dry pasta. also a semolina porridge makes a nice hot breakfast. also a nice plate of couscous will feed muscles.

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 12:19 am
by ertyu
I meant it in the "I don't know what I'm talking about" way, so thank you for your explanation. Looking back, I am not sure how yesterday me decided that kneading bread makes protein out of thin air. Phyllo dough is a central component of a bunch of balkan pastries which I love (think spanakopita, the greeks made it famous but we've got the same deal going on all over the balkans: you most often use eggs and feta for filling, but spinach or pumpkin -- or if you're completely decadent, ground nuts and honey to make baklava -- are all an option. The resulting pastries are all oily, eggy, bready, and not very healthy in spite of being absolutely delicious. Being able to tell myself they're at least made of "strong flour" helps :lol:

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 5:37 am
by 7Wannabe5
If/when you want crispy rather than chewy, dubbing in part cornstarch for wheat flour works well. Also, it is sometimes/places less expensive to purchase cake flour in the form of cake mix than plain flour.

Pie crust or anything else where you want light, flaky texture requires the most minimal handling and a distribution of a hard fat into little bits which will create pockets. I usually sprinkle granulated sugar on to top crust of sweet pies. Sometimes I just use bottom crust and then top with layer of sour cream sprinkled with strudel filling or add layer of cheddar under top crust of apple pie.

Popovers and drop dumplings are two other semi-archaic flour recipes which can add variety or bulk to budget meals. Thin egg batter drop dumpling can almost replace homemade noodles with much less hassle. Just fill a colander with batter and push it out with a spoon over boiling stock.

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 6:23 am
by ertyu
Lately, I have started thinking about the variety of steamed buns that the Chinese make. Mastering those would certainly be a win. Seems like you either make them plain or you chop up whatever you have in the fridge (or yesterday's leftovers, for that matter).

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 8:05 am
by Alphaville
ertyu wrote:
Tue Oct 13, 2020 12:19 am
Being able to tell myself they're at least made of "strong flour" helps :lol:

dammit man, spanakopita, i love that stuff. baklava as well, glorious stuff. this is making me hungry.

you know what i like though? a good mille feuilles. i’d kill for a napoléon right now, damn.

s’okay, i made shortbreads—with 50% whole wheat actually, so they’re filling.

shortbreads and cocoa is a good first breakfast and i’m grateful for it. oh, but spanakopita mmmmmmm. i’m a spinach fiend.

Re: The Cult of Samin Nosrat

Posted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 9:09 am
by 7Wannabe5
Yeah, Chinese buns would be fun to try and plum napoleon Is the best. Also, homemade bagels Boiled up with lots of gluten and spanakopita made with Lambs Quarter instead of spinach is very good.