Salt Fat Acid Heat: One Home Cook’s Transformative Journey, Pt. 1A (Experiments in Salt)

The past month has flown by and it’s been forever since I’ve written! The holiday season was soooooo busy at Locavore–for which we are very grateful!!–that I had no time to cook or write at all. But I realized during that time that, as part of my series on my transformations while reading Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, I needed to create some posts about my experiments with the techniques and principles covered in each chapter of her book. For the salt chapter, I could have done something easy, such as testing different ratios of salt in my pasta water. But as someone who already amply salts pasta water, I wanted to experiment with a new technique, namely, salting meat longer in advance than I normally do.

So when I had a couple of days off for Christmas, I decided to do a salting test using Samin’s Buttermilk-Marinated Roasted Chicken (pp. 340-341 of SFAH). I made two chickens and salted them at different times in order to compare them and to test Samin’s claims (of which I’m already convinced, of course). So one chicken I salted and marinated on Wednesday and roasted it Friday, and the other I salted and marinated a couple hours before roasting on Friday.

Chicken on the left is the one that marinated for 2 days. Tahlia took a bite from it before remembering to take photos. 🙂 She said that bite was delicious!!

As expected, both chickens were delicious: tender and moist (do you hate that word, too?! There’s really no good substitute for it, unfortunately, haha!). But the first chicken was evenly and deliciously salted all the way through. It was much tastier than the second chicken, which just hadn’t had enough time to adequately absorb the salt. Both were browned nicely, though somewhat unevenly. I forgot to trim the wing tips, so those got a little crunchy.

I think that Leftover Buttermilk-Marinated Roast Chicken would be great for a chicken salad, since it’s so flavorful and moist.

In other news, I tried some other new culinary experiments this week, in anticipation of Samin’s chapter on fat, which is up next: I made a Hollandaise sauce for Christmas for our asparagus, which I roasted with strips of preserved lemons that I’d jarred earlier this year. I salted the asparagus about 20-25 minutes before roasting, plus the lemon provided a bit of additional seasoning. Because asparagus spears are so fibrous, I think I should have salted them even longer in order for the seasoning to penetrate the stems.

Preserved lemon that I diced for our Christmas cocktails!

The preserved lemon was delicious in the asparagus and nicely complemented the hollandaise sauce. I then added a little bacon topping, because….bacon. I will confess to having cheated on the hollandaise by using an immersion blender instead of doing it the traditional way with a whisk. But I’m going to whisk the shit out of things next, including another hollandaise sauce, plus a home-made mayo.

Roasted asparagus with preserved lemon strips.
Plated with a bacon topping and my somewhat runny hollandaise sauce.

I recycled the leftovers with poached eggs the next morning, served over toasted slices of the emergency tube of polenta that we keep in the fridge. Hollandaise sauce is freakin’ delicious!!!

As usual, I broke open the eggs before remembering to take a photo. At least the eggs were poached properly!

From my experiments salting the chickens, I have learned that it is indeed best to salt meat at least a day in advance of cooking it, for it penetrates throughout and delightfully seasons the entire piece of meat. Never again will I find it adequate to salt cuts of meat just prior to cooking.

I have also learned how what Samin calls “layering” of different sources of salt–e.g., the combination of preserved lemons, bacon, and hollandaise sauce in the asparagus functioned to enhance flavor and to make the dish’s seasoning far more complex. On the downside, I’ll probably notice whenever I eat things that haven’t been seasoned properly. As Samin says, simply adding salt before serving is no substitute for “seasoning from within”–a process in which you season at several points in the cooking process, and perhaps using different sources of salt in the dish.

If you don’t normally salt your pasta water, try this experiment. Make some pasta in your usual way, and then in another pot, add a generous amount of salt to the water before adding the pasta–and I mean like a woman-hand palmful. Then see what you think when you taste both with sauce or olive oil or cheese. Make friends with you salt!!!! You will thank yourself. 🙂