Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking
by Samin Nosrat
–Review by Douglas Balzer
Inspiration abounds around us. Have you ever laughed when you read the title to a book or a sign because it connected with something other than what it was communicating? For me, these four words evoke a semiotic feast as I considered the biblical narrative. Now the book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat is a cookbook. It is not an ordinary cookbook either. It introduces us to some important metaphors that can lead to some delicious semiotic preaching even if you are not following the recipes.
What is in it for you, reading a cookbook? Reading a cookbook, this cookbook as a source of semiotic metaphors will help us learn some fundamentals secrets behind preaching the story, our presence in the world, and how we can be and give people an irresistible taste of Jesus.
So, for many people, a cookbook is just that a cookbook. A set of recipes to follow step by step instructions written or instructed by experts on how to make the dish you want. The experts tell us, “Use these ingredients, these tools, and these procedures to produce this food.” Why these ingredients, these tools, and these procedures? The expert never tells you. You just have to trust her/him!”
Unfortunately, the more complicated the instructions are, the more difficult it is to follow them. And the more mysterious they seem, the more you feel unable to deviate from them and the more pressure you feel to follow them to the smallest detail. This, in turn, makes you feel less able to be creative, which can take the pleasure out of cooking.
Does any of this sound familiar to you except in another context? I hope it does because it is how Evangelical Christianity handles preaching, evangelism, discipleship. Don’t believe me, ask the dishes. Think about your experiences. Please, ponder them for the moment. What are we to do when the joy has gone out of our service in the Kingdom of God. Read a cookbook like Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat that is what you do.
Fortunately, through semiotics we are able to draw metaphorical inspiration from unusual sources. There are some simple culinary trick and tips that will not only make cooking easier and fun but will enable us to understand what we are doing and why we’re doing it. What is great about learning this is it gives us the freedom to be creative in cooking/preaching and our living for Christ.
Nosrat breaks it down into four basic elements that produce great cooking Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat. With these four elements, you can take your cooking and your walk with Christ to a whole new level. So, for your culinary pleasure here are some highlights I hope will inspire you to read this cookbook as a metaphor for living and preaching the story.
Use plenty of salt in your cooking water and pick the right method of salting.
James Beard, the famous American cook, once asked, “Where would cooks be without salt?” Well, if you know how crucial salt is to enhancing flavor, you’ll know the answer: a very bland place. This is why you should learn how to harness the culinary power of salt.
Yes, you did go there. “You are the salt of the world!” A Jesus metaphor. Salt is a crucial mineral for life. We experience it benefits every day with little or no thought at all. Remember Jesus call us to be the salt of the world – a blessing to the world that experiences the benefits of our presence every day with little or no regard.
The benefits of cooking with ample salt are the mineral seasoning will be absorbed into the vegetable effectively seasoning them from the inside. The added bonus is the absorbed salt will help soften the vegetable enabling them to cook faster. Are you following the metaphor? This doesn’t mean you go “hog wild” with the salt, different dishes call for varying amounts of salt and determine how much salt you use.
There are three methods for applying salt. Now, Jesus didn’t talk about methods of using salt, but he knew his audience. They understand the critical application of salt in their everyday lives, unlike contemporary society. So. salting is done by the palmful where you are grabbing salt and adding significant amounts by the fist full. It is open-handed with the salt. Specific cooking situations require this method. Next is the wrist wag method. It is done with the palm turned upward and gently shaking the hand so as to allow the salt to fall evenly over the tray of food. Finally, there is the pinch method. It is precisely a simple pinch of salt between your fingers!
Always remember a little salt goes a long way, be aware of the specific method you use for the type of cooking (preaching) you are doing. You are the salt of the world.
Fat, it is good to choose your cooking fats carefully
Here I just want to say a bit about fat. When I read the word, it invokes the imagery of the sacrificial system. The choice fat pieces were to be sacrificed to the Lord. If you know how to use fats, it will enhance the flavor of your food. You have to choose the right fats carefully. Salt and fat effect flavor in different ways. While salt reinforces the flavors, fat enables you to taste them fully. The imagery the metaphor brings out could flavor your preaching as you contemplate presenting ourselves as living sacrifices. Fats soak up the aroma of a dishes spices and cooking juices. Think about spreading the aroma of Christ. The fats stimulate the taste buds and allow the flavor to reside on the tongue for a longer time than the food would by itself. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooks have a good understanding of how fats play a critical role in dishes in order to bring out many of the flavors that are unique to the regional foods. Here is a critical connection in telling the metaphor of fat. We connect the dots.
Here I have endeavored to stimulate your taste buds with a couple of the metaphors this cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat could bring to your preaching, teaching, and even your conversation. The cookbook has more to offer like crispy, mouthwatering, balancing flavors with acids, and of course heat. Knowing how to use the heat properly.
The metaphors and semiotics of cooking have been fun to engage. Great cooking like great preaching is not about following recipes; it is about understanding how various ingredients interact with one another and achieving the right effects with the right cooking methods. Putting more salt in your cooking water, picking the right fats, using acid wisely and turning up the heat just enough, but not too much in order to achieve a delicious crispy texture.
Okay, I hope you are laughing with me as you read this review. I have enjoyed interacting with the metaphors, and I hope you will be inspired to read cookbooks from a new perspective from now on.