The Life-Changing Magic Of Samin Nosrat's Buttermilk Chicken

Photos by Getty Images (left) and Kristin Iversen (right)

Make it yourself and see

I watched Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, the four-part Netflix series starring Samin Nosrat that shares a name with her recent cookbook, over the course of one dark, cold night late last year; it instantly warmed me up. I watched it greedily, and felt gently, vicariously gluttonous as each episode progressed and I traveled the world with Nosrat, sampling limpid honey in Mexico, creamy pork fat in Italy, mahogany dark soy sauce in Japan, her mother's own crackly domed tahdig back home in California. And then there was that chicken.

In the fourth episode of the series, "Heat," Nosrat prepares her buttermilk-marinated roast chicken, a recipe so simple it doesn't even require much of a recipe. There are three ingredients, including salt—or, maybe four, if you include time. (As Nosrat says while making the chicken, "People think that cooking starts the moment you turn the oven on, but really it starts a lot earlier.") But if you watch the show, you won't even need to read the actual recipe, all you need to do is pay attention as Nosrat scatters generous pinches of salt over a pair of raw chickens, their glistening skin the color of a white T-shirt that's been worn regularly for more than a year. And, I know you're already paying attention, but pay special attention to the way Nosrat sprinkles the salt; her hand bows delicately from her wrist, her fingers extend long and loose; the salt seems to come directly from their tips in a brief moment of kitchen ballet. It's beautiful, I think.

Then, into a big plastic bag go the chickens, where they are doused in buttermilk, and in which they will rest for up to 24 hours before being popped into an oven (425 degrees, but Nosrat points out that having precise control over your oven's temperature is just an illusion), where their skins will become crackly and burnished, and their interiors stay lush and juicy. Nosrat says, snacking on a shred of the dripping meat, post-carving: "I'll never get sick of this chicken. It's so good!"

I have been known to cook a viral recipe or two, and after watching Nosrat make that chicken, I decided to jump on the bandwagon, make the chicken, and practice my salting technique. I had seen other people on Instagram post pictures of their own adventures with this recipe, and what was most notable about their accompanying commentary was not just the pleasure they experienced in eating something delicious (though there was that), or the pride they felt at having mastered a new dish (though there was that too), but rather the wonder they felt at the end result, as if it were alchemical instead of just chemical, as if those chickens came out of the oven coated in actual bronze, instead of just bronzed skin.

This recipe and the awe which accompanies its every completion recall the words Nosrat intones at the beginning of the episode: "Heat... it's the element of transformation." Only, it isn't just the chicken that has been transformed, but you—you are not just someone who cooks, you are now a cook.

Perhaps that seems to be a minor distinction, but it's one that not every recipe, no matter how beloved, can bestow. What makes this chicken recipe so brilliant, then, is that after you've followed its very loose guidelines once, you know it by heart. It becomes intuitive. Whereas other popular, still wonderful recipes will have you checking your phone every two minutes to make sure you're doing it right, this chicken is almost instantly a part of your muscle memory, you don't have to think about how to make it any more than you have to think about how to breathe.

Of course, simplicity isn't always the most compelling thing, particularly not for the kind of cooks who are driven by hashtags. In a recent article for the New York Times Magazine, Nosrat wrote about viral recipes and her desire to create one of her own, driven by "jealousy" for her Times colleague Alison Roman (of #TheCookie and #TheStew fame) and New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner (who had her own genius roast chicken moment, involving a Dyson hairdryer). Though Nosrat claims she hasn't yet had a viral recipe of her own, she does reference this chicken, admitting that it's "the best—and most popular—recipe [she's] ever written," crediting that popularity to the fact that "it's simple, easy and extraordinarily tasty. Anyone with an oven can make it."

But those who have made the chicken love it for other reasons than the fact that it's easy. What Nosrat has given us is not just a dish to make, but a code by which to cook. She is teaching us that there are rules to making food that tastes good: We must utilize salt and fat and acid and heat. But within those rules, we can and should—we must—find joy.

It is in this way that Nosrat reminds me a bit of Marie Kondo, whose own Netflix series, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has achieved viral popularity (as did her identically titled book), and is premised around the idea that if our things do not spark joy within us, we should let them go. And though a lot of attention has been paid to the exactitude of Kondo's methods and her lack of sentimentality around, say, unread, dust-gathering books, the point of the Konmari technique isn't simply about following a set of rules. Yes, the rules are a part of it, but it's more about understanding and trusting in a system, letting go of fear, and figuring out how to make magic out of your everyday existence.

This magic in the everyday, this delight in well-folded clothes or a simple meal of beans and herbs and roasted vegetables, is infectious and transformative, and is doubtless the reason that watching both Nosrat and Kondo is simultaneously soothing and energizing. They are a reminder that the power to change is within us, that we can explore by traveling the world or by trying new things within our own homes. We can make the ordinary feel extraordinary, and maybe grow to understand that the two things are not so different after all. We can change our lives and feed ourselves; it's simple enough, and it's so good.

Photo by Jennifer Clasen/HBO

This explains so much

When the second season of Big Little Lies premiered, we all ran into the wall that was Shailene Woodley's character Jane's blunt bangs. Seriously, the look was so controversial that tons of people on Twitter started pointing it out, and wondering who made that character decision. Well, Woodley herself has straightened it out for us.

Keep reading... Show less
Photos by Dia Dipasupil, Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Alongside Nicole Kidman, Awkwafina, and more

The Prom is coming to Netflix. The Tony Award-nominated Broadway show is being transformed into a star-studded movie musical by American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy, who already tapped the likes of Meryl Streep and Ariana Grande to star.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

While she wished Tana Mongeau a happy birthday on one account, her other one paints a different picture

If you're in YouTube and influencer culture as deep as the rest of the internet, you already know that Tana Mongeau and Jake Paul got engaged yesterday. How does Mongeau's ex, actress Bella Thorne, feel about the situation? According to her official Instagram account, she's totally supportive of her. But, as is usually the case, her (what I call) Finsta tells the more realistic story.

Keep reading... Show less
Asset 7
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris / Neilson Barnard / Getty Images.

"And then she cried the white girl cry"

I'm not sure I'd even call the ongoing spat between Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus a beef. We've seen Minaj in real beef, like her ongoing feud with Cardi B that culminated in some major Fashion Week drama. But even though things aren't that level between Minaj and Cyrus, things are still definitely not okay.

Keep reading... Show less


Amanda Bynes has just graduated with the Class of 2019 from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. Late Monday evening, Bynes shared a photo to Twitter celebrating the achievement, posing alongside a classmate in her cap and gown.

TMZ shared additional selfies with fellow classmates from the graduation ceremony. Sources told TMZ that Bynes seemed "ecstatic," and that she was "getting tons of love from her teachers and peers."

The actress has been enrolled at the school since 2014, though, as Page Six notes, was kicked out for a short period of time toward the beginning of her studies, but returned and completed her program within five years.

In March of this year, Bynes checked into a mental health facility after an alleged relapse, following four years of sobriety. Prior to that, she had returned to the public in late 2018 with an interview with Paper in which she opened up about her experience with depression after the release of She's The Man, as well as her drug use.