If you find yourself chanting “pork fat rules!” with a certain Food Network chef, Bruce Aidells’s Complete Book of Pork might transport you to hog heaven.
Aidells, known as “the sausage king,” started a sausage company twenty years ago in the San Francisco Bay area. His latest cookbook isn’t simply a collection of recipes, but a reference for the home cook on buying and preparing pork. Throughout the book Aidells gives helpful advice: how to choose ribs, how to maximize flavor, and how to match a cut of meat to a cooking method. His brining and doneness charts are detailed for specific cuts. The book includes an entire section on preserving pork, with recipes for grinding sausages and curing bacon. Carefully written hygiene and basic cooking instructions guide the way toward successful results. Aidells also injects his food politics: he steers readers away from enhanced pork and makes his case for naturally-raised meat. The appendix features a short yet valuable list of sources for organic and heritage pork.
Aidells chose recipes for people who want to take time to enjoy pork. You won’t find any convenient “dinner for two” or “meals in minutes” recipes here. Most serve six to eight people and take some time to prepare. Aidells suggests starting a day in advance for Baked Rigatoni with Pork Rib Ragu (p.228), and Basic Italian Salami (p.304) can take ten weeks. Throughout the book, Aidells gives “master recipes” for foundational dishes, then he encourages cooks to come up with their own variations inspired by a few of his own.
The recipes put the meat on center stage. My Best Bolognese (p.230) strays from classic flavors. It calls for two pounds of ground pork, a pound of beef, and half a pound of pancetta, preferably homemade (his recipe is included on page 291). Onions, carrot, and celery get lost after a watery chop in the food processor. Other ingredients, such as porcini mushroom and wine, also seem to disappear in the final dish. Absent any garlic or traditional Italian herbs, the result is a heavy, meaty sauce that tasters found bland.
The book also features recipes inspired by world cuisines, such as Grilled North African Marinated Pork Kebabs on Couscous with Apricot Sauce (p. 138). Alex’s Pierna (p.204) is served on tortillas with Citrus Marinated Red Onions (p. 205). After marinating overnight, the pork shoulder cooks for four hours wrapped in banana leaves. The result is tender shreds of pork, mildly seasoned with a balance of sweet tang from kiwi and spice from cilantro, cumin, oregano, garlic, and paprika.
Bruce Aidells’s Complete Book of Pork isn’t the choice for someone looking for a practical cookbook of quick weeknight dishes, or even the person who occasionally eats pork. Instead, ask yourself a question or two: do you keep a crock of bacon grease on your stove? Are you always looking for new things to wrap in prosciutto? You might find a kindred spirit in Aidells.
Alex’s Pierna (Banana-Leaf Wrapped Pork)
Serves 6 to 8
Reviewer’s comments: Though this recipe takes four hours to cook, it’s largely unattended time. Marinate it the night before, then wrap it in banana leaves or aluminum, put it in the oven, and most of your work is done. Be sure to let the meat rest before you begin shredding it. The marinated onions also come together quickly.
2 kiwis, peeled, or 4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
½ cup orange juice
½ cup roughly chopped onion
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted
½ bunch cilantro
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons achiote paste or paprika
6 garlic gloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
6 pounds boneless Boston butt, cut into two equal pieces
2 (24-inch long) banana leaves, defrosted if frozen
Citrus-Marinated Red Onions (recipe follows)
Put all of the ingredients except the pork and banana leaves into a blender. Blend until the mixture forms a paste.
Spread the paste over all sides of the pork, then put the pork in a zip-lock plastic bag, seal, and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375-degrees F.
Cut off any long, hard sides of the unfolded banana leaves. Run them, one at a time, over a high flame or hot electric burner until they’re softened and shiny. Put the banana leaves in a shallow 9-by-13 inch baking dish and top with the pork and any juices from the marinade. Pull the leaves up and tuck in the sides to enclose the pork. Transfer the pork to the oven and bake for four hours or until the meat is falling apart.
Remove the pork from the banana leaves, and pour off the liquid into a serving dish. (If the liquid is very watery, reduce it just to concentrate the flavors; it doesn’t need to be thickened.) Break the pork apart into chunks or shred it and combine with the cooking liquid. Serve with the Citrus-Marinated Red Onions and lots of warm tortillas or rice.
Citrus-Marinated Red Onions
4 cups sliced red onions, ¼ inch thick
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup chopped cilantro (optional) or 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
Toss all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl and let marinate at room temperature for three hours. To store, cover the bowl and refrigerate for up to four days.
© '2004 by Good Cooking,