My Notes from Salt Fat Acid Heat

Alanna Irving
13 min readMar 10, 2020

I’m an intuitive cook, improvising on recipes freely when I use them at all. That’s why Salt Fat Acid Heat is the perfect cookbook for me.

It’s an exploration of the underlying principles of good cooking, explaining the science behind how ingredients behave and the why behind the norms of cuisine. The information is presented in an accessible and engaging way, so the knowledge can be internalised and applied freely. It empowers with knowledge rather than dictating by rote.

Combined with Samin Nosrat’s delightful voice, personal stories, and infectious enthusiasm for good food, not to mention the stunning illustrations and diagrams throughout, the book is more than worth reading front to back—which is what I did.

As I went, I took notes on tips and facts I felt I would realistically put to use, and recipes for dishes I want to try. Here I’ve collected and boiled down the concrete advice from the book that I thought would make me a better cook.

(Page numbers in parenthesis if you want to refer to the book for more detail).



  • Use non-iodised salt. (22)
  • Taste saltiness after it has dissolved. (24)
  • Salt reduces bitterness. (26)

Salting Meat

  • Salting meat and giving it time to diffuse prevents toughness when cooked. (31)
  • Salt takes longer to diffuse if meat is cold. (31)
  • Salting for too long will cure (dehydrate) meat. (32)
  • Don’t salt seafood more than 15 minutes ahead of cooking. (32)
  • For stews, salt the meat ahead of time instead of the sauce during cooking. (37)

Salting Other Food

  • Salt takes a long time to dissolve in fat. Pre-dissolving in water or acid speeds it up. (32)
  • Add salt to eggs before cooking. (33)
  • Salt watery veg ahead of roasting to draw out moisture and pat dry. (33)
  • Don’t salt mushrooms before cooking. (33)
  • Salt generally softens veg. (33)
  • Salt beans when soaking and when cooking. (33)
  • Salt toughens gluten. (34)

Salting Cooking Water

  • Never salt water that will be absorbed (e.g. when cooking rice). (34)
  • Always salt pasta water. (34)
  • If you don’t salt cooking water, it will leech out natural minerals from veg, removing both color and nutrition. (35)
  • Liberally salt cooking water that you plan to drain off, until it tastes as salty as the ocean, as most of the salt will be discarded. (36)
  • Fully dissolve salt in boiling water before adding food. (36)
  • Boil potatoes in salted water before roasting. (36)

Salting Times (40)

  • 1 day: chicken, steak
  • 15 mins: aubergine, courgette
  • Just before cooking: seafood, eggs
  • While cooking: mushrooms, veg
  • At serving: salad



  • Fat has 3 roles: a binding ingredient, a cooking medium for texture, and a seasoning to add flavor. (61)
  • Fat carries flavor, making it more intense and linger longer. (64)
  • Fat enables cooking at higher temperatures than cooking in water, resulting in browning, which add flavor. (64)
  • Fat type determines flavor; cooking method determines texture. (74)
  • Fat can create 5 textures: crisp, creamy, flakey, tender, light. (74)
  • Pre-heat the pan before adding oil to minimise deterioration. (76)
  • Test temperature with a drop of water: if it crackles, it’s time for fat. (76)


  • Add vanilla extract directly to fat (e.g. butter, egg yolks). (64)
  • For lightness, whip the fat. (95)

Olive Oil

  • A lot of olive oil you encounter is actually rancid (smells of wax). It goes off 12 months from pressing date. (66)
  • If cost is a concern, it’s better to get good olive oil and dilute in a neutral oil (canola, grapeseed) than to settle for cheap olive oil. (67)
  • Store olive oil away from light. (67)


  • Use unsalted butter and salt to taste when cooking. (67)
  • Gently heat to make brown butter. (67)
  • Clarified butter is put fat and will not burn. (68)
  • Ghee is browned clarified butter. (68)

Animal Fat

  • Animal aromatic molecules are stored in fat. (69)
  • Lard is pork fat. It has a high smoke point. (70)
  • Cook bacon slowly to render (liquify) fat before the meat burns. Put in the oven at 175°C. (77)


  • Crispiness comes from boiling off the water in food. (75)
  • Cook meat with a fat cap on that side first to render and crisp it. (77)
  • Use high heat to crisp the outside, then lower heat and cook through. (79)
  • Crowding the pan or piling up food while still hot traps moisture and causes sogginess. (79)


“An an emulsion is a peace treaty between oil and water.”

  • Whisk oil and vinegar to create a creamy textured dressing. Use immediately, before the emulsion breaks. (80)
  • Emulsifiers keep fat and water from breaking apart, e.g. mustard in a vinaigrette. (80)


  • Anything sour is acid. (105)
  • Acid causes salivation. (106)
  • Don’t use bottled or old lemon or lime juice, as it adds bitterness. (109)
  • Cellulose cooks slower in acid, which is why you cook onions first before adding tomato. (112)
  • Cooking beans alkaline makes them tender. Reduce acidity by adding bicarbonate of soda. (112)
  • Acid encourages pectin; add it to jams and fillings. (112)
  • Baking powder = bicarbonate of soda + tartaric acid. Acid + base = chemical leavening. (112)
  • Acid makes egg whites coagulate, letting them cook before losing all their water. Add a few drops of lemon juice for creamy scrambled eggs, and put vinegar in egg poaching water. (113)
  • Add acid to whipped egg whites to help them foam. (113)
  • Acid in dough or batter tenderises it—if you’re aiming for chewy, wait until the last minute to add acid. (113)
  • Acid denatures meat proteins, leading to moist tenderness, but if left too long they coagulate and toughen. (114)
  • Acid breaks down collagen in tough meat—add wine to stews at the start of cooking. (114)
  • Browning and fermenting raises acidity. (115)
  • Too sour means too much acid—aim for bright and clean instead. (117)
  • Macerate means to soften by soaking in acid. (118)
  • Deglaze with acid (e.g. wine) to prevent too much sweetness. (118)
  • Heat dulls vinegar and lemon flavors, so add at the end if you want to bring them out. (118)
  • Always balance sweetness with acid. (126)



  • Look at the food, not the heat source (e.g. watch for browning, not oven temperature). (133)
  • Time heat so the surface and interior are done at the same time. (134)
  • Carryover = residual heat that keeps cooking after you remove heat source. (151)
  • Key heat decision: slow and gentle (creating tenderness) or quick and intense (preserving tenderness). (154)
  • Oven temperatures are imprecise — use your senses. (155)
  • When using a convection (fan) oven, reduce temperatures by 15°C and lower cooking time. (182)
  • Start the oven hot for browning (>200°C) then reduce to cook through (<190°C). (185)

Heat + Water

  • If there’s steam the temperature is capped at 100°C—not hot enough for browning. (138)
  • Piling up food traps steam. (138)
  • Pans with sloped/curved or shorter sides allow steam to escape more than straight, taller sides. Use deep pots for simmering and shallow ones for searing. (139)
  • Salt draws out water. If you want browning, salt ahead of time and pat dry before cooking. (139)

Heat + Fat

  • Cold fat is solid. Extended gentle heat turns animal fat to liquid (renders it), which bastes meat from within. (140)
  • Fats are slow to change temperature and it takes a lot of energy. This means fatty food removed from heat continues cooking. (140)

Heat + Veg

  • Cellulose is not broken down by heat. It must absorb water to become tender. (141)
  • Leaves have less cellulose than stems. Stagger kale and similar veg into the pot, cooking stems first. (141)
  • Seeds, grains, and legumes have shells, which must be removed or broken down in order to digest them. Absorbing water softens them. Whole grains retain their sheaths, while processed ones have had it removed. (141)
  • To brown thin foods like courgette slices before the insides become overcooked, pre-heat the baking sheet or cast iron pan. (183)
  • Roast veg at 200°C. Salt beforehand to draw out excess water and pat dry. Don’t crowd the pan to prevent sogginess from trapped steam. Turn food and rotate trays for even browning. (184)
  • Tightly pack roasting veg to cook slowly and prevent burning; spread out for quick cooking and more browning. (139)
  • Don’t mix very different veg and expect them to cook the same. Place on seperate trays and remove each when done. (185)

Heat + Sugar

  • Sugar breaks down and caramelises at 170°C, re-forming into hundreds of tasty compounds. (143)
  • When cooking a carrot, starches break down into sugars and cell walls disintegrate, allowing the sugars to reach our tongues. Hence cooked carrots are sweeter than raw. (143)
  • Sugars in veg start to break down as soon as they are picked, so fresher means sweeter. Just a few hours at room temperature halves the sweetness of starchy veg like peas and corn. (143)
  • New potatoes have more sugar, which will burn when frying before they’re cooked through. Use older, starchier potatoes for chips, and rinse excess starch off after cutting for a crispier result. (143)
  • Pectin is present in the seeds and peels of citrus, stone fruit, and apples. To extract, cook the fruit in a cheesecloth bag then squeeze out the pectin. Pectin + sugar + acid + heat = gel. (146)

Heat + Protein

  • Proteins exposed to heat first denature (unwind) then coagulate (clump back together more tightly), entrapping water and creating structure in food. (147)
  • Not enough heat makes proteins go flabby. Too much heat causes clumps to tighten and squeeze out water, so food becomes dry and stringy. Just enough heat gives a firm and moist result. (147)
  • Eggs cooked too hot loose their water to a sad puddle on the plate—use low heat. (147)
  • Proteins in milk coagulate above 82°C, so do not bring to a boil. Cream doesn’t contain much protein, and flour prevents coagulation. (157)

Heat + Meat

  • Salt helps keep proteins from drying out, hence the pre-salt meat before cooking. (148)
  • Cook tender meat to 60°C and poultry to 70°C (internal temp). (148)
  • For tender meat, go hot and fast; for tough meat go low and slow. (148)
  • Low heat turns collagen to gelatin over time, helped by acid. (148)
  • Bring all meats to room temperature before cooking, so the outside doesn’t get overcooked by the time the inside is done. (151)
  • Get into the habit of removing meat from the fridge and salting it early. (151)
  • Resting after cooking relaxes proteins, allowing meat to retain more moisture. (179)
  • Carve against the grain for more tenderness. (179)
  • Fatty meats baste themselves while roasting, while lean meats need help not to dry out. (185)

Simmering & Poaching

  • Remove pasta from boiling water a couple minutes early and finish cooking in simmering sauce, to both flavor the noodles and thicken the sauce. (160)
  • Simmering water looks like bubbles in champagne. Poaching water looks like a glass of champagne left out over night. (161)
  • Poach fish in a mix of water, wine, and olive oil. (161)
  • For tender meat, simmer instead of boiling. (159)


  • Braising = big piece of meat + a little liquid + gentle heat + time. Stewing = small pieces of meat immersed in liquid. Both turn sinew and cartilage to gelatin. (163)
  • To enhance flavor, leave meat in large pieces and attached to bone (and salt well in advance). (164)
  • Brown meat fully on all sides. Don’t move or pick up often. Rotate pan to get an even sear. Do not allow it to fry (remove fat if it renders). Don’t rush. (164)
  • Deglaze browning pan with acid (wine or beer) to create braising liquid (remove fat first). (164)
  • Put veg on bottom, meat on top, add liquid and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. (165)
  • Lower temperatures take longer but dry meat out less. (165)
  • When braising is done, strain liquid and reduce for sauce. (165)
  • The flavour of braised meat improves and develops over a couple days after cooking. (165)

Boiling & Steaming

  • Use plenty of water when boiling: food needs to move freely to cook evenly, and overcrowding lowers the temperature. (168)
  • Remove veg slightly early to account for carryover instead of placing in an ice bath. (168)
  • Once done, spread veg out instead of piling it up, to prevent overcooking by trapped moisture. (168)
  • Boil tough greens like kale and then sauté. (169)
  • When reducing, place pan half on the burner. The boiling side will move fat to the still side for easy skimming. (170)
  • Steam and then brown carrots, sausages, and gyoza by adding water and cooking with lid ajar, then pouring off water and frying. (171)


  • Meat sticking to the pan means it’s not browned enough. (173)
  • Sauté is named for the flick of the wrist movement used to jump the food in the pan while frying. (174)
  • Preheat fat in the pan so food begins browning as soon as you add it. (172)
  • Don’t crowd the pan—it reduces the temperature and traps steam. (175)
  • If your stove doesn’t get hot enough for searing, pre-heat a cast iron pan in the oven. (176)

BBQ Tips

  • To impart a smokey flavour on a gas BBQ, put soaked wood chips in a disposable baking tin, cover with foil, poke holes, and place in BBQ out of direct flame, then cook food with BBQ lid closed. (153)
  • Never grill over the flame; cook over embers. (177)
  • Don’t allow rendering fat to drip and cause flare-ups. Move food around. (177)


“The goal with all cooking is to achieve your desired result on the outside and the inside at the same time.”


  • Develop recipes backward from where you want to end up. (135)
  • Removing water concentrates flavour. Overwatering while growing ingredients dilutes their taste. (137)
  • Read several recipes for a dish and stick to the parts they have in common while playing around with the rest. (199)

Practical Tips

  • Use a bread knife to cut tomatoes. (205)
  • Never skimp on olive oil, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, and chocolate. (207)
  • Worth the effort to DIY: grind your own spices, salt-packed anchovies, and chicken stock. (207)
  • Toss salad with your hands so you can feel when dressing has evenly coated the leaves. (215)
  • Remove beetroot skins after roasting whole by rubbing with a paper towel. (218)
  • Macerate onions in vinegar or citrus juice for 15 mins then use the liquid in salad dressing. (221)
  • To draw excess water out of cabbage for coleslaw, slice, place in colander, salt, and leave for 20 mins. (224)
  • If asparagus is thicker than a pencil, peal the stems. (235)
  • Make dressing in a jar by adding the ingredients and shaking. Store leftovers in the jar in the fridge. (249)
  • Toast cumin seeds by dry frying for 3 mins, swirling constantly. Grind immediately with a pinch of salt. (251)
  • If tahini dressing breaks, whisk with a few tablespoons of ice water. (251)
  • To blanch, boil leafy greens in salted water until tender, dry on a tray or wring out, then sauté. (258)
  • Steamy sauté: simmer veg covered until tender, then pour off water, add oil, and brown slightly. (261)
  • Roasting veg brings out sweetness, so pair with an acid sauce after cooking. (263)
  • Fry veg until nearly done, then make a hole in the centre of the pan and add oil and garlic. Sizzle for 20 seconds, then mix through and remove from heat. (264)
  • Dried beans triple in size when cooked. (280)
  • Soak dried beans with salt and bicarbonate of soda. (280)
  • You can use any beans to make hummus. (281)
  • Add garlic to hot fat and cook no more than 20 seconds, then add other ingredients to prevent browning. (295)
  • For crispy roast poultry, salt and leave overnight in the fridge uncovered. (316)


Sauces, condiments, and dressings

  • Mayo: 3/4 cup oil per egg yolk, ingredients at room temperature, whisk oil in one drop at a time. If it’s too thick, add lemon juice. (82)
  • Butter sauce: Cook meat, remove fat, deglaze, melt in cold butter slowly. (83)
  • Crème fraîche: Add double cream to starter and leave unsealed at room temperature for two days. (113)
  • Brown butter vinaigrette: Macerate shallot in balsamic and red wine vinegar, then add brown butter, salt, and pepper. (241)
  • Lemon vinaigrette: Macerate lemon zest and a smashed garlic clove in lemon juice and vinegar. Remove garlic and add salt and pepper. (242)
  • Gomae dressing: Tahini, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin. (251)
  • Miso mustard dressing: Miso, honey, dijon, vinegar, ginger. (252)


  • Scrambled eggs: Whisk eggs with salt and a few drops of lemon juice, melt butter in pan on lowest heat, add eggs and continue whisking while adding 1 tablespoon of butter per egg one at a time as they dissolve, remove from heat just when eggs begin to firm. (147)
  • Fried egg: Get oil in pan very hot, then crack in the egg. Add butter and spoon over to baste the top. (303)
  • Boiled egg: Boil in shell for 8 mins, then roll to crack shell and place in ice water. Peel when cooled. (304)
  • Dried tomatoes: Halve and place in try cut side up. Sprinkle with salt and sugar. Bake at 95°C for 12 hours. (181)
  • Slow-roast salmon: Place skin side down on bed of herbs and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 110°C until flaky (40–50 mins). (181/310)
  • Croutons: Rip day-old bread into 2.5cm chunks, toss in olive oil, and spread on baking sheet. Bake 20 mins at 200°C, removing as they look done. Sprinkle with salt. (236)
  • Cherry tomato confit: Place a single layer of cherry tomatoes over basis leaves and stems and garlic cloves, Partially submerge in olive oil and season with salt. Bake at 150°C for 40 mins, until first splits show. Discard basil. (256)
  • Butternut squash with brussels sprouts: Halve squash and cut into 1cm crescents. Also halve sprouts. Coat with olive oil and salt, and out each veg on its own tray in a single layer. Bake at 220°C for 25–30 mins, rotating pans once. Remove when browned and tender. Toss with acidic dressing. (263)
  • Bean salad: Macerated onions, toasted cumin seeds, feta, coriander. (281)
  • Gluten-free battered fish: Mix 200g rice flour, 3 tablespoons each potato starch and corn flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 225ml vodka, 225ml soda water. Keep ingredients very cold. Batter fish and deep fry. (313)
  • Chicken lentil rice: Season chicken the night before with salt and cumin. Brown chicken and discard fat. Cook bay leaves, cumin, leek, and saffron on medium heat for 25 mins. Increase heat, add rice, and toast until golden. Add raisins and dates and cook for 2 mins. Pour in stock and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and nestle in chicken, skin side up. Wrap lid in a tea towel and secure with a rubber band to absorb moisture. Cover and and cook 40 mins on low, then let rest 10 mins before removing lid. Serve with herb and cucumber yogurt. (334)
  • Five spice chicken thighs: Seal chicken in a bag with marinade of soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and five spice. Refrigerate in bag overnight. Bring chicken to room temperature, then bake at 200 for 45 mins, with marinade covering the bottom of the tray to prevent burning. Turn heat up to 220 to crisp skin and cook for 12 mins, basting three times. Serve with spring onion. (338)



Alanna Irving

Exploring bossless leadership, collaborative tech, and co-op systems —