The author's name is not only above the title, but part of the title of `Bruce Aidells's Complete Book of Pork'. And, the book fully lives up to its title and subtitle, `A Guide to Buying, Storing, and Cooking the World's Favorite Meat'. The book includes absolutely every subject on pork I can think of, including several I did not even expect because I thought they may be too obscure for even a 320 page book on this single subject. Not only do the authors cover their territory; they do it very, very well.
As Aidells states early in the book, this work is for people who like to create their own recipes with pork. While pork may be the world's favorite meat, it may also be one of the most difficult, especially today in the United States, where so much fat has been bread out of our porkers that older James Beard and Joy of Cooking recipes for pork may simply not even work any more, in that there is not enough fat moisture in some cuts to support exposure to high heat for the time needed to get the inside of the meat up to the old standard temperature to insure that chance of trichinosis or botulism is removed. One of the greater ironies of meat cooking is that if you cook pork loin or pork tenderloin with wet heat over 160 degrees Fahrenheit for very long, you will end up with dry, stringy meat in spite of the cooking in water.
So, one of the first and most important parts of the book is how to select cuts of pork and match them to the appropriate cooking method. Regarding selecting meat, I must have been incredibly lucky or terribly inattentive, as I have never seen many of the pathologies against which Aidells warns us. Still, it is very rewarding to know of these things and feel much better prepared to select meat at unfamiliar location such as the new farmer's market or warehouse store.
One surprise in the matching of meat to method is Aidells's counting leg and shin meat among the more tender cuts. The usual rule is that the further from the hoof or the horn, the more tender the meat. Well, I guess this doesn't work for pigs, as they have no horns. But, the principle of cooking tender meat by dry methods (grilling, roasting, sautéing, frying and broiling) and tough meat by wet methods (braising, stewing, poaching and steaming) is as true for pork as it is for beef. One thing that is true of pork and other `white meat' and not true of beef is the efficacy of brining in making the final cooked product moister. Brining pork is a very popular subject which has been explored by all the usual authorities such as Shirley Corriher and Harold McGee. The virtue of Aidells's book is that the technique is discussed in great detail, in connection with all the appropriate recipes.
Aidells's range of recipes for pork is not only broad, it is also of a very high quality. One of the first recipes I examined was for a strata made from sausage meat. As I just finished making a strata recipe from Wolfgang Puck's new book, I was really unhappy that I had not seen Aidells's recipe first, as it appears to be a much more interesting preparation. I was also very pleasantly surprised to see a recipe for a Philippine pork adobo recipe that was better than the one in my Philippine cookbook. The book does not cover every conceivable recipe. There are several famous dishes such as Chinese pork Dim Sum style steamed dumplings that are not in the book, but then, this recipe is more about the technique involved in the dumpling than it is with the pork.
The very best thing I found with this book is that all recipes use relatively simple techniques and equipment. One can spend tens of thousands of dollars on expert smoking equipment, but Aidells shows us how to do it with nothing more than a $100 Weber dome grill. I definitely approve of this. Also, he gives us instructions on how to make fresh sausage using a manual meat grinder, a KitchenAid meat grinding attachment, or a food processor. While I would not want to go through the difficulties of this technique, he even describes how to stuff sausage using a piping bag. I draw the line here and I have no difficulty in investing in the proper KitchenAid apparatus.
In addition to fresh sausage, the authors cover virtually every other pork processing and preserving technique such as making bacon, hams, and cured sausage such as salami. I was especially pleased to see the authors open the chapter on terrines by associating this technique with meatloaf. This association should immediately make pate and Terrine techniques friendlier to a reader who may associate them with old school French cuisine, done by no one who is not wearing a toque. My favorite recipe in this chapter is for a Polpettone Napoletano. I have seen Mario Batali make a polpettone (Italian for large meatball), but it has never quite inspired me as well as Aidells' dish. As written, it serves 12 to 16, so it is a super entertaining dish for delivering protein economically to a buffet crowd of unknown size.
As pork curing products are not standard items even at good local butcher shops, the author provides an excellent list of suppliers including both familiar (Nieman ranch, Dean and Delucca, Penzey's) and unfamiliar sources for speciality meats and materials.
The best thing I can say about this book is that it is every bit as good as expected. And, as this is one of the most useful kinds of books for the creative chef or wannabe creative chef, I say buy it now. You will find what you need and a lot of pleasant surprises as well.