Last year, Bruce Aidells published his first cookbook in a decade: "The Great Meat Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Buy and Cook Today's Meat" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 632 pages). In it, Aidells, who is married to Boulevard chef-owner Nancy Oakes, uncovers the cuts of meat and label language that have emerged as a result of the modern small farming renaissance -- and offers tips on how to cook those cuts into 250 delicious dishes. We caught up with Aidells recently to talk about beef shanks, Indian food and why he thinks Foster Farms may go out of business.
Q You split your time between Kensington and Healdsburg. Where do you like to dine out?
A We eat out a lot more in Healdsburg. There, we like Farmhouse, Scopa and Campo Fina right around the corner. We like to eat at the taco trucks on Sebastopol Street in Santa Rosa, too. They have a covered patio with tamales and enchiladas for $1.50. You can't go wrong. In Albany, I do like Ajanta on Solano Avenue.
Q What's a cut of meat most Americans aren't using but should?
A You know, the neck area of lamb has so much connective tissue, when you cook it long and slow the collagen gets a wonderful texture. The other underappreciated is the shank -- not lamb but beef.
Q What's your favorite cut to cook? To eat?
A I could never answer that. It depends on the setting and my mood. Christmas dinner? I'm going to find the best piece of prime rib. If I'm cooking on a Monday for a meal that will last the rest of the week, I'd probably make a lamb curry because I love Indian food.
Q In your book you talk about meat as a flavor component rather than it always being the centerpiece. Example?
A You just have to look at some poor cuisines, like Chinese stir fry, Italian pasta sauces and meal-type soups, where a little meat goes a long way. In Mexican cooking: the classic tortilla soup, with leftover shredded chicken. I like to think in terms of how the leftovers are used. Neither Nancy nor I know how to cook for small groups. Leftover pot roast makes a filling for a classic beef pot pie and hot sandwiches. If the meat has a Mexican profile, you can turn it into enchiladas.
Q You and Julia Child were friends, yes? What was she like?
A I was lucky enough to have dinner and lunch with her about a half-dozen times and do a few group book signings together. She was a very gracious and patient person who never got upset when folks interrupted her meal to tell her how much they admired her. She had her own strong opinions, and she did not tolerate fools. Even in her 90s, she was well-aware of what was going on in the food world. She was always glad to see me and loved to eat at Boulevard. When she did eat there, she asked to be taken into the kitchen so she could thank the cooks. Needless to say, that made a very lasting impression on the staff. She was not arrogant or self-aggrandizing and always shared her time with folks. Up until she was 90, she had massive energy and did lots of books tours and food tours. She managed to wear out publicists who traveled with her.
Q You are vocal about the latest salmonella outbreak. What do people need to know?
A I think what pushes people's buttons the most is conditions in feed lots and the feeding of antibiotics to animals for growth and totally financial gain. It's the most irresponsible thing that we allow food companies to do and it's probably going to put Foster Farms out of business with this new salmonella strain out there that is very nasty and not treatable by antibiotics. Antibiotics are sold in quart bottles and added to feed with absolutely no tracking. The first law we need is just some kind of regulation. The FDA approved it and then backpedaled. I have a strong personal stance. I'm a scientist. I've seen the data. To me, it's pretty clear what needs to happen.