Bruce Aidells deserves the title of “King of Meat” after years of crafting delectable meaty goods and founding an eponymous sausage company in 1983. Aidells is widely known as a prolific expert on everything related to sausages, meat, salumi, and charcuterie. His story has ties to the Bay Area, where he has lived for many years.
The longtime success of Aidells sausages marked a huge shift leading up to the late 1970s, when Americans bought sausage as an occasional breakfast staple with little variety. Now you can find creative sausage links that show Aidells’ culinary craft: chicken apple, artichoke garlic, or even pineapple bacon fly off the shelves at Costco and grocery outlets.
In 2002, Aidells left the sausage company to pursue recipe consulting and writing work. The Bay Area resident is an award-winning author and has a new hefty cookbook, The Great Meat Cookbook: Everything you Need to Know to Buy and Cook Today's Meat (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40). Aidells ably breaks down meat cuts and labels, and gives budget-friendly advice on using under appreciated (and usually cheaper) parts. He told me that this may his last book; readers may hope not after diving into creative recipes that include lusty meatloaf, beer broth marinated hanger steak and braised Montana coffee-marinated bison short ribs.
Aidells got his start as the first chef and co-owner at the popular Poulet restaurant in Berkeley in 1979 and is married to chef Nancy Oakes of Boulevard and Prospect fame. I caught up with Aidells after a recent book signing event in San Francisco.
Bay Area Bites: Your wife Nancy Oakes is a chef-restaurateur. How does that play out in your home kitchen? Who decides what to cook?
Aidells: I’m an ex-chef and she’s a current chef, so we’re not used to people telling us what to do. We do things our own way. Even how a piece of bread gets sliced is debated: I would cut it perpendicular and she’s going to cut on a bias. If we have company over, she’ll plan the meal and I’ll cook the meat. For Thanksgiving, she cooked and I determined when the turkey was done. I carved the turkey, which I do every year. Unfortunately, neither of us know how to cook for small groups so we make a lot of food. Nancy’s the coordinating chef for Meals on Wheels and we usually do three or four auction items where people come to our house or on a boat. We usually raise about $100,000-$200,000.
Bay Area Bites: What are you most passionate about food-wise?
Aidells: Besides white truffles? (laughs). With sausage ingredients and spices, there is always something interesting to learn. For this cookbook, I learned a lot about spices. I’m really passionate about ras el hanout [a Moroccan spice blend]. We have access to one that comes from Morocco via Pacific Gourmet. You have to grind it yourself and there's something like 20 ingredients in it.