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Recreate the Magical Miso Egg and the Mouthwatering Short Ribs From “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”


Netflix

With her book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Samin Nosrat demystified cooking and made me understand and appreciate flavors in a whole new way. So it came as no surprise when Netflix tapped her for the TV version, which was released on October 11. The artfully rendered four-part series travels the globe, examining how different cultures maximize these four basic culinary elements in their traditional foods.

Nosrat has often said that salt is the most essential ingredient. When it came time to showcase this substance for a TV audience, she knew she had to go to Japan. It’s an island nation,” she explains. “They’re sitting in the middle of the ocean, and there’s endless sea water to turn into salt.” As she recounts on our latest episode of Bite, the Japanese have come up with ingenious ways to harvest it, including by using a special kind of seaweed.

Salt shows up in the country’s cuisine in fascinating ways, Nosrat reflects. There’s soy sauce, of course, and sashimi flecked with sea salt, and pickles made from every vegetable. And then there’s miso—a fermented bean paste, for which salt both aids in fermentation and helps bring out a rich umami (savory) flavor. After visiting a cook named Kazumi Kabasumi and learning how to make the paste, Nosrat and another chef smear it around soft-cooked eggs and wait as the flavor seeps in. (You can find the recipe for this snack below, as well as one for soy-sauce marinated short ribs).

Netflix

But learning to cook with salt does not require a plane ticket to Japan. The patient Nosrat hosted me in her Berkeley apartment for a lesson about the basics. When it comes to cooking with salted water, knowing how much of the substance to use depends on how long you’ll be cooking your main ingredient—”whether or not the food you are cooking is going to absorb all that water.” Rice will absorb all of the liquid you put in the pot, so you’ll need less salt, whereas blanching green beans, which bob in boiling water for just a minute or so, won’t absorb much of it—so the water should be quite salty.

The best way to measure salinity is simply by tasting it. For the sweet potatoes we decided to boil, Nosrat recommended making the water taste as briny as the ocean—or at least “your memory of the ocean.” In the three quarts of water we boiled, I added two heaping teaspoons to start, but they barely registered. Nosrat suggested adding three times as much—and after what seemed to me like a cup of the substance, but was probably around three tablespoons, we approached sea level and dropped in the diced sweet potato. Those measurements depend entirely on the type of salt used: Diamond Crystal, Nosrat’s preferred brand, is one of the least salty brands. (For more salt shopping tips, check out episode 4 of the series).

When it comes to sauteed and roasted vegetables, I’m a fan of a a caramel-laced crispy brown exterior. To get there, I’ve never thought much about when to add the salt to my stir-fries. Now I know: With a watery vegetable like eggplant or zucchini, add salt to the raw cubes, let sit 15 minutes or so, and then pat dry before cooking. Or, saute the vegetables without salt, and wait for the water to release before adding salt for flavor. Otherwise, if you add the salt right as you start sauteing, “it’s going to initiate osmosis at the same time you start cooking, and two months later your eggplant will come out and be in a pile of juice,” Nosrat explained.

I ask Nosrat if she ever messes around with rosemary or truffle flavored salts. Nope, she’s quick to respond. “Whatever flavor I added to my salt is just going to distract me from it. People love their truffled salts, and I’m like, ‘you guys, you’re being scammed.’ Save the truffle. Just buy yourself some regular old salt.”