Reviewing cookbooks is a much more practical enterprise than reviewing most other kinds of books. Mainly, if the recipes in it sound good and make me interested in preparing them, than the book has accomplished its goal – end of story. And, indeed, Bruce Aidells’s Complete Book of Pork has plenty of mouth-watering dishes in its arsenal. But there’s more to it than that.
Aidells, the founder of Aidells Sausage Company, knows his pork. He opens the book with a dissection of its history and biology (did you know pigs can gain 130 pounds in six months?), and then moves on to a thorough discussion of the pig’s current role in the world – to be eaten. There are discussions of what cuts taste the best for certain recipes, what kind of methods to use when cooking pork and all that good stuff.
The best chapters are, of course, the ones with the recipes in them. Just try reading Aidells’s recipe for “Crispy Pork ‘Chips’” (fried patties of ground pork) without salivating. The dishes run the gamut from easy stuff, like chops and cutlets, to the more advanced, like curing your own bacon. Perhaps the most interesting parts of the recipes are Aidells’s introductory paragraphs, which precede each recipe. Reading him preach the virtues of old-fashioned barbecue or whole fresh pork leg is just as stimulating as the recipes themselves.
True, the basic purpose of a cookbook may be to provide recipes for good eating, but Aidells has produced something special – a cookbook that’s also a good book, entertaining, thought-provoking and well-written.