Skip to main content

Bruce Aidells Still Loves Meat.

Cookbook author Bruce Aidells. He's co-authored (along with Denis Kelly) the new book, "The Complete Meat Cookbook" (Houghton Mifflin). It's the first comprehensive reexamination of meat cooking to come along in 20 years. Recipes include: The Classic Hamburger, Not-Like-Mom's Meat Loaf, and Beef Stew with Mushrooms, Onions, and Dark Beer. Aidells is also the founder of Aidells Sausage Company. The teams previous cookbook "Hot Links & Country Flavors" won a Julia Child Award.

20:55

Other segments from the episode on March 17, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 17, 1999: Interview with David Goodman; Interview with Bruce Aidells; Commentary on English in Europe.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MARCH 17, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 031701np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: David Goodman
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In his new book about South Africa, journalist David Goodman writes "In the years since the end of white minority rule everything has changed and nothing has changed." He elaborates on that in a series of profiles of people who straddle the great divides of South African society: rich and poor, famous and obscure, powerful and weak, white and black.

Goodman first went to South Africa in 1984. He has written for "The Nation," "Mother Jones," and the "Boston Globe." His new book is called, "Fault Lines: Journeys into the New South Africa."

South Africa will be holding national elections this spring to replace Nelson Mandela who became president in 1994. I asked Goodman for his evaluation of Mandela's presidency.

DAVID GOODMAN, JOURNALIST; AUTHOR, "FAULT LINES: JOURNEYS INTO THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA": You might say that reconciliation became the civil religion under Mandela. Indeed he took every opportunity to preach it, both in his personal and political life -- going to visit the wife of the former prime minister who imprisoned him back in the early '60s. This was shortly after he became president.

And even a time when I accompanied him when he returned to the jail he where he spent the last three years of his 27 year incarceration, and he met with the warder -- the prison guard -- who, in many ways, was more a servant and a cook than a conventional jailer.

So I would say that Mandela has done a remarkable job at keeping his country together and doing something that no one thought possible in South Africa, which was keeping it from boiling over into war.

Mandela's successor is most likely to be a man named Thabo Mbeki, his deputy. And I think Mbeki will have a much more difficult job. Mandela was something of a saint, and Mbeki is a mere politician and will suffer the consequences that often go with politicians trying to bring people together.

GROSS: So assuming Mbeki does become the next president what kind of president do you think he might be?

GOODMAN: Mandela has both a large domestic following -- popular following in South Africa, he is enormously popular -- and an international following. Where he is viewed as one of the preeminent world statesman.

Mbeki does not have that kind of popularity. He was in exile during the African National Congress' decades long liberation struggle against the white minority government. And as such, he has not cultivated the personal following or the moral stature that Mandela has.

One of the things that I saw in touring South Africa was the enormous amount of poverty that remains, and it is a legacy of apartheid that the new government has really been unable to eradicate. I think Mbeki will be held sharply accountable for those shortcomings of the society.

GROSS: Well, do you think the new government has been unable to eradicate poverty because it's so entrenched or because the government has not followed through on what it promised to?

GOODMAN: I think that Nelson Mandela and the ANC, back in '94 when they were campaigning for election, made some very lofty promises that they were simply unable to keep. They spoke of things like a million houses by the next election, which is coming this June. They've built about a quarter of those.

They may have simply aimed too high. They've also chosen a rather conservative economic course that has greatly pleased institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, but have left many township activists, the people who once supported the ANC, furious.

One of the people who I profile in my book is a woman named Adelaide Busso (ph). Adelaide is really emblematic of the dilemma that South Africa finds herself in. She is a domestic worker, a squatter, who lives in a metal shack outside Cape Town.

She also now sits as a counselor on the city council for one of the wealthiest communities in South Africa. Indeed it's the community where she cleans floors and toilets still. So in Adelaide we have the figure of a woman who has attained political power but still has no economic power, and that is very much to situation that many blacks find themselves in today in South Africa.

GROSS: You also say that there's a new black elite. It's a small group, but it's a growing group. And you profile somebody who is a member of this group. She has a cleaning service and drives, I think, a Mercedes.

GOODMAN: Yes. Timi Madisae (ph) was a fascinating person to follow around. She runs what has now become the largest firm of domestic workers in South Africa. I call her the "Apartheid Jujitsu Artist" because she has been totally unapologetic in turning apartheid on it's head.

The way that she's done that, as she explained to me, was to assess very coldly and on sentimentally where people are coming from. She grew up in Soweto. Was kind of a tough street fighting kid. And has still maintained those qualities.

So what she told me was that the white English-speaking South Africans are very racist, and they think that blacks can only clean toilets. And she said, I tell them, I'll clean your toilets but you're going to pay me a lot of money to do it.

GROSS: You profile several people in your new book, "Fault Lines," one of then is Paul Erasmus (ph) a former member of the security branch of the South African police. And this is the branch that went after dissidents and often tortured them.

One of his victims, someone who he was involved in the assassination attempt of, is a minister who was tortured for several weeks for refusing to name the names of communists. Tell us more about why this minister was the target.

GOODMAN: In the late 1970s, Frank Chikane was a pastor of a black church in a small black township outside of Johannesburg called Kageso (ph). He came to this community in 1976 which was a very fateful year in South Africa.

It was the year of what has now become known as the "Soweto Riots," a watershed uprising of blacks against apartheid. All of a sudden Frank Chikane found himself in what amounted to a war situation where his congregates were being rounded up and thrown into jail.

And he intervened at the request of his congregates. And he very rapidly rose through the ranks as a very eloquent and forceful defender of the rights of black people, both in his congregation and beyond. Chikane became the head of the South African Council of Churches in the late 1980s.

As a result of his efforts, Chikane endured three rounds of torture, six rounds of detention, a year of hiding, and ultimately, in 1989, an assassination attempt where his clothes were mysteriously poisoned. He actually fell ill in the United States.

He had come on a high-level church delegation with Archbishop Tutu and others to meet with President Bush, and he fell ill. And it was here that it was discovered that he had been poisoned.

GROSS: Paul Erasmus, the member of the South African police, was involved in the assassination attempt of Chikane. Erasmus went public to the Goldstone Commission, this was the commission that was investigating state sponsored violence in South Africa.

Why did he go public and confess to some of the acts of torture, etcetera, that he committed?

GOODMAN: Paul Erasmus was a member, as you said, of the secret police. He had a falling out with his superiors. Basically, he was centrally involved in attacking anyone deemed to be a anti-apartheid activist. And finally found the strain of the work that he was doing, which involved often going around at night fire bombing people's homes. And in the case of Reverend Chikane, being involved in scoping his house out.

And then Erasmus' partner later returned, according to Erasmus, to do the actual poisoning of Chikane's clothes. Erasmus had asked -- was suffering from a variety of symptoms related to stress. He wasn't able to sleep. He has a son with cerebral palsy, and so he was moved to another police station outside of Johannesburg.

He thought it would be a low stress job, instead he got into a big fight with his boss. The result was he was frozen out. His money was kept from him. His house was seized. And so as he -- as Erasmus told me when the police turned on him he turned on the police.

And he then went to the Goldstone Commission in 1994, on the eve of the elections that brought Mandela to power, and told everything that he knew about the former white government's involvement in state sponsored terrorism.

GROSS: Paul Erasmus, the cop, and Reverend Chikane who was nearly assassinated had something of a reconciliation. Tell us about that.

GOODMAN: Well, Paul Erasmus is quite haunted by many of the things he did. So in 1995 he called Reverend Chikane. Reverend Chikane is now the top aide to Thabo Mbeki, the man who will likely become president in June. And he called to say that he was sorry for what he did.

He had actually hoped to meet with Chikane, but Chikane replied through an intermediary with a very pointed question: will you tell me who actually poisoned my clothes? Because Erasmus has maintained, well, he didn't actually put the poison in. That was his partner.

Erasmus said, no. His partner would have to come forward on his own. He didn't want to rat on his old friend. And so Chikane said simply that he would agree to speak to him on the phone. Well, when the phone call finally came Erasmus described to me how nervous he was.

He was afraid that, like many of the people that he once terrorized, that Chikane would upbraid him and berate him for the things he did. Instead, Erasmus was dumbstruck when Chikane asked how his family was doing. And then said that he forgave him.

GROSS: You've reported on the work of the Truth Commission, and you talked to Chikane about how he felt about the Truth Commission. And the near reconciliation that you just mentioned is very related to it because Erasmus went public about his deeds. He is not going to be prosecuted for what he's done, and he's been given some amount of forgiveness by one of his victims.

What did Chikane, the victim, have to say about the Truth Commission?

GOODMAN: Well, Chikane is in an awkward position. He's a political leader in South Africa and was among those who advocated having some kind of truth commission in lieu of Nurenburg style trials. And yet in is own personal life he has found it very difficult to forgive, not the foot soldiers like Paul Erasmus -- he told me that he understands the foot soldiers.

At point he said, you know, I know what these guys went through. They were taken at age 18. They were put into the Army, as every South African white male had to serve in the Army, and they were told that we were the enemy. We were there to tear down their homes and blow up their businesses.

So he said they -- I understand they fought with their heart and soul. He said, but it's the leaders, the F.W. de Klerk's, the P.W. Botha's -- these are the former presidents. He said those men are profiting from our misery, and to this day they draw double pensions for the suffering that they inflicted on our people. He said those people I've not forgiven yet.

GROSS: What were your personal impressions of Paul Erasmus?

GOODMAN: Well, when I met Erasmus he -- my -- it was real cloak and dagger stuff just arranging a meeting with him. There have been two assassination attempts on Erasmus' life by his former police colleagues because he has revealed the various nefarious things that the former government did.

And so when I came to meet him it was -- I was to come to a certain town, call from a pay phone and then meet him at a meeting place that we -- a neutral meeting place. I was not allowed to see his home, his family, his wife.

My impressions on meeting him were that he still -- he's a very complex character. He still has some of the swagger of his old days and a bit of pride in having been, in his own mind, a good cop. Although being a good cop just also happened to make you a terrible and morally bankrupt person, as he would probably acknowledge.

Probably the most vivid image that I have of him came when we were about to leave. We spent about 12 hours together, and it was at his insistence that we just do this in a long sitting where he just told his whole story of killing and fire bombing and harassing.

And we walked outside and it was about midnight, and we stood next to his car and there was kind of a crescent moon out. Paul was very agitated and nervous, and he said to me I guess -- he said, maybe I've wasted my life. And I saw that he was fidgeting and I couldn't help but say to him that -- are you spooked being out here?

And just then there was a loud fire cracker crack in the distance. He flinched and wheeled around, of course there was nothing there. And he said, yeah well -- he says, it's part of my condition now. My post-traumatic stress.

And then some kids were walking up the block and they looked fairly innocuous to me, one guy was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. But he could not take his eyes off them. He had become quite paranoid. And it struck me that the night had turned on him, and the night was where he did his best work.

But now he's haunted and lives on the run. And I guess the overall image I had was of the power of one's conscious to haunt you for many years to come long after the bad deeds that you've committed.

GROSS: My guest is David Goodman, author of "Fault Lines: Journeys into the New South Africa." More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is journalist David Goodman, author of "Fault Lines: Journeys into the New South Africa."

Now you mentioned that Reverend Frank Chikane, a minister who was tortured by the South African police and there was also an assassination attempt on his life, that he was willing to forgive the foot soldiers, the police but he wasn't willing to forgive the people who ordered them to assassinate him -- who ordered them to torture. And he wasn't able to forgive the former white presidents who ruled over apartheid.

You actually paid a visit to one of those former presidents, P.W. Botha. Who was in power from '77 to '89. He's not somebody who gives interviews. How did you manage to talk with him?

GOODMAN: Well, it's well-known to journalists that P.W. Botha doesn't talk. Didn't talk then in the '80s, and doesn't talk now. He was the strong man of apartheid, and throughout the 1980s it's fair to say he was probably the most hated man in Africa.

He was singularly identified with the finger wagging, scolding kind of belligerent attitude of the white government. I met Botha by accident. I had -- I was in South Africa with my family -- my wife and my daughter who was then four years old, and we had set off from Cape Town for a month-long trip around the country.

Well, one day out of Cape Town my 14 year old car that I had just bought blew its transmission, and we limped into a small town called George where I probably deposited the car at a auto repair shop and had to figure out what to do for three days.

Well, the only thing I knew about George was that it was the home to P.W. Botha. And so I went to a museum where they had a P.W. Botha wing and I asked them could I speak to Mr. Botha. And they naturally laughed and said no. But they said they'd give him a call.

One thing led to another, and P.W. Botha got on the phone and explained to me that, no, of course he wouldn't see me. He doesn't speak to journalists and doesn't do this kind of thing. And journalists have caused him nothing but misery in his life.

But I pointed out that I was 10 minutes away from his house. That gave him a little pause, and finally he relented and said, OK, you can come over tomorrow. We'll speak for 30 minutes, and no politics.

The next day I came over as told. I found P.W. Botha when I came in -- and incidentally we talked for three hours and about nothing but politics. And I then returned to see him several months later to pay him another visit.

He is as belligerent and irascible as ever. Totally unapologetic and unrepentant for what happened during the years of apartheid rule. An interesting footnote to all this is that Nelson Mandela has visited Botha three times.

Once when he was in prison, but then twice since he's become president. And it struck me as I left Botha -- and it was an incredibly bizarre experience for me to meet the man behind the legend -- it struck me that there are actually are similarities between Botha and Mandela.

GROSS: What are some of the similarities that you see?

GOODMAN: Well, both are man of principle who have stuck to their principles perhaps to a fault and to great personal sacrifice. Mandela, in his case it cost him over two decades -- nearly three decades -- in prison.

And Botha, it ended up forcing him from the presidency in 1989. Their moral stature cannot be compared. But some of their personality traits, and indeed they apparently get along fairly well. There certainly are those things that one sees that both of them share.

GROSS: You mentioned that you once accompanied Nelson Mandela on a trip back to his former prison. What did you learn about Nelson Mandela on that trip?

GOODMAN: I accompanied Mandela, along with a small group of journalists and an entourage of prison officials -- actually it was a very unusual visit -- into the place where he was last in jail. It was actually a small cottage on the grounds of this prison which was set in this bucolic setting out in the wine country. Kind of like the Napa Valley of South Africa.

And it was there that Mandela turned to me and said, "these were the best years of my life." He said as he walked into this. And I looked at him rather shocked and said, "but you were a prisoner here." And he said, "yes, but this is where I first met the new leadership. The young leadership of the African National Congress. The people who are going to lead the country now."

And I -- we first began to share views on what South Africa after apartheid would look like. It was also quite touching because it was the place where he -- he was then reunited with the man who was his jailer. This man, named Brigadier Swort (ph), was a tall, thin, middle-aged Afrikaaner man. He was -- Mandela turned at one point and said, what has become of him?

And the prison official said, well, he's standing outside. And so in walks this very nervous looking man in a suit, and Mandela turned to him and held his hand, as he often does, and looked him in the eye and said, "I will never forget the kindness that you and your family showed me while I was here."

In fact Swort often would bring Mandela home and his wife would cook him meals. And Swort became very teary eyed, and then Mandela sort of broke the tension around it by then asking him about his children and what not.

But it was, and has been, Mandela's ability to cross political divides and touch people's hearts that I think has made him such a remarkable leader and such an icon of reconciliation there.

GROSS: Well David Goodman, I want to thank you very much.

GOODMAN: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: David Goodman is the author of "Fault Lines: Journeys into the New South Africa."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: David Goodman
High: Journalist David Goodman. He's written a new book about post-apartheid South Africa, "Fault Lines: Journeys into the New South Africa." He tells the story of four South Africans whose lives are divided by race and/or class. Goodman has written for "The New Yorker," "The Nation," "Boston Globe," and the "Village Voice." Archbishop Desmond Tutu says of his book, "A searingly honest book by someone who really knows his subject. Goodman is sympathetic to the attempts at transformation in my beloved motherland."
Spec: Africa; South Africa; Human Rights; Lifestyle; Culture; David Goodman

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: David Goodman

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MARCH 17, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 031702NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Bruce Aidells
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

March 20th is the 15th annual Great American Meat Out, an effort to help Americans kick the meat habit. One person who won't be celebrating is my guest Bruce Aidells, an unapologetic meat connoisseur. He is the co-author of "The Complete Meat Cookbook," which was just nominated for a James Beard Award. He also owns a gourmet sausage company and is a former restaurant chef.

If the meat you remember from childhood is more tender than the meat you're buying today it's probably not your imagination. Aidells says there is an explanation for the difference.

BRUCE AIDELLS, COOKBOOK AUTHOR, "THE COMPLETE MEAT COOKBOOK": The farmers and producers have responded for the public's desire to eat less fat, and so they sort of put their cattle and pigs on a diet and they've been successful.

It started about 20 years ago, and so the result is that pork is about 50 percent leaner than it use to be and cattle, depending on the grade, is also much leaner. In fact in 1986 they re-did the whole grading system and created a new grade called USDA Select, which is a much leaner grade than what we were all used to buying which was Choice.

Which is still available, but a lot of supermarkets now carry select. It just has a lot less fat. And the good news is that yes, it's healthier. The bad news is fat provides flavor and also juiciness and a sort of texture -- tenderness.

So the issue is how to make the meat that we have today taste almost as good as it used to taste.

GROSS: Well, you have a lot of suggestions for that in your new book. Why don't you give us a couple of how to put the juices back in.

AIDELLS: Well, one of the things is you really do have to pay careful attention to how well the meat is cooked. And this is particularly true with pork which tends to be the most well done of all meats. And the old recipes that tell you to cook it to 180 degrees you just -- you need to throw those out.

And you need to really cook pork -- it's still going to be well done but it's going to be in the range of 150 to 160 degrees, and that's the internal temperature. And it's the internal temperature of any piece of meat that determines how done it is or not. So that's really important.

The other thing is to cook things gently if there are things like stews and braises, instead of boiling them, you know, really vigorously. And to make sure that you select the right cut of meat for the right dish, and that's probably one of the most basic pieces of information. I mean, it's kind of obvious but it isn't that obvious actually.

GROSS: Let's get back to the pork for a second. You suggest cooking it at a slightly lower temperature than what the USDA -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends. What about trekinosis (ph), are you risking trekinosis?

AIDELLS: Well, no. I would never want to tell somebody -- that somebody -- that somebody could risk -- could cause a risk of some kind of food borne disease. Trekinosis is killed at 137 degrees internal temperature, which is actually sort of in the medium rare level.

So I'm not saying to cook it down that low, but if you cook 10 or so degrees above that, or even 15 degrees above it, you're going to eliminate that risk. And the truth is that we don't have a whole lot of trekinosis in our meat supply.

Even though as a producer -- I do own a sausage company -- we have to treat every piece of pork as though it does have trekinosis. But the reality is that it's extremely rare.

GROSS: How do you think buying meat has changed since you were a kid? What are the butchers getting different now that's different from what they used to get?

AIDELLS: Well there's -- it's amazing. First of all, butchers is a key operative there. Many supermarkets no longer have any butchers. They simply have clerks, so there's not that expert -- that of old-fashioned guy with a little bit of blood on his apron you could go up to and say, you know, Mr. O'Malley what do you recommend that I should buy for my meal tonight? Those guys are hard to find.

Number two, this is the other massive change that has occurred. Meat no longer comes to the market on a carcass. It comes in boxes. And it comes already cut up in to sort of large cuts which are called primals.

And what's even happening is that some meat companies are even selling things already completely packaged ready to be served to the consumer in like little meat trays, and they even have their labels on it. So I would say that the future for butchery is not that great in this country. They're sort of getting phased out.

So it's a problem. One of the things that boxed beef is -- well, boxed meat has produced is some new cuts of meat that we didn't use to see a lot of. One of them is like pork tenderloin. Those never used to exist because they were always attached to the pork loin that had the bones on it, so you had to buy the whole pork loin and then get the butcher maybe to cut that out for you.

So it has produced -- another wonderful cut that's been produced from the fact that meat is now sold in boxes is called "tritip" (ph), which is a very nice little triangular shaped beef roast that makes a perfect little roast beef for three or four people. So there are some benefits to this, but gosh the days of the butcher are just -- they're numbered.

And boy, if you have a butcher -- if you know a butcher and you trust a butcher and you do business with him, keep him. He's like a car mechanic. Cherish him. Marry him.

LAUGHTER

Do whatever you can. He's an important fellow.

GROSS: Now what about grading? Can you tell from the labels whether the meat you're buying is the top graded meat?

AIDELLS: Well first of all, the top graded meat which I mentioned earlier is USDA Prime. It's in very short supply. Maybe one or two percent of our beef, again I'm talking here about beef, comes out graded Prime. And of that, the first customer is the Japanese who really like very heavily marbled meat.

So what little is left then goes to the fine high end restaurants and specialty steak houses around the country. And that leaves a tiny tiny bit that goes into some specialty butcher shops and really high-end grocery stores.

So let's say that for the average Joe, he's not going to be able to find Prime. But the next grade down is the Choice. And Choice is the one grade that shows the greatest amount of variation. It sort of varies from what they call the bottom end of Choice, which has the least amount of marbling, to the top end.

It still has more marbling than Select. So that's what I would recommend most people looking for. And then a lot of stores will sell this USDA Select, and it's certainly fine for a lot of things like pot roast and some of the other cuts. And you just have to pay a little bit more careful attention.

And if it isn't labeled on the package, if it doesn't tell you what grade, just ask the butcher because he has to be able to tell you that. But sometimes it isn't on the package, so it is worth asking.

GROSS: And if you're getting a lesser grade does that mean it's less healthier or just less tasty?

AIDELLS: No, it's probably the other way around. If you consider fat -- higher fat to be less healthy then it's going to be more healthy for you in terms of it will have less fat. But it's just going to be a little more troublesome to cook and maybe not as delicious. Especially some of the steak cuts.

GROSS: Now how does the bacterial and E. coli scare affect your techniques of cooking?

AIDELLS: Well, it certainly -- it means you've got to think about how well you're going to cook meat. And the one -- the thing that is most important -- we have the highest risk -- is ground meat. And ground meat -- once you take a piece of meat that is basically sterile except for the outer surface, and then expose it to the environment by chopping it up and whatever it comes in contact with its going to pick up whatever possible bacteria there.

Now the risk has increased. So when it comes to ground meat the safest thing to do is to cook that meat to an internal temperature of 160 which means well done. It still will be -- at 160 it still has a little bit of juice, especially if you buy ground chuck which has a little bit more fat in it.

I think that it's not much of a risk for solid chunks of meat like steaks. Because steaks are really seared on the outside which is a high enough temperature to kill just about any kind of organism that might be living on the surface. And like I said, the interior of the meat is basically sterile.

GROSS: You suggest that the indispensable tool for the chef who cooks meat is the digital thermometer. Tell us why this is so important.

AIDELLS: Well, it's -- the whole name is digital instant read thermometer.

GROSS: Excuse me.

LAUGHTER

AIDELLS: Because -- well, most of us remember these old -- these things called meat thermometers, and they were these big old clunky metal things. You stuck it into the meat and you left it in there, and then you checked it and it would tell you well, rare, medium.

Unfortunately, number one, they were very inaccurate. And number two, they still have a lot of the old guidelines like they still tell you to cook pork at 170 degrees. So forget about those.

A digital thermometer is designed to take an instant reading. So you actually take the piece of meat out of the oven or whatever, open the oven door, stick that in, wait 10 seconds and you get the reading of the interior of that piece of meat. And it's fairly accurate. It's very accurate.

The reason I like digital as opposed to the dial type is because a digital actually only needs to have the tip inserted into the meat to give you a reading. While the dial type you need to actually insert a couple of inches.

So they're very very useful for steaks where you only have maybe a one inch thick steak so you only -- you only have to push in like to the middle -- halfway in -- half an inch. And you still get a nice reading so you can tell when steaks are done.

I'll tell you the truth, Terry, none of us guys that actually cook a lot of meat ever use a thermometer. We use the old finger method.

GROSS: What is that method?

AIDELLS: Well, you poke the meat and you can tell by how firm it is how done it is. It does kind of fall apart when you have a big old prime rib though. Even the pros like myself do use a thermometer to tell a prime rib because you can't tell at all by looking at it or pushing it. Because it's just too thick of a piece of meat.

GROSS: But for the rest of us you recommend that digital instant thermometer.

AIDELLS: Yeah, it pays for itself the first time you don't ruin the Christmas roast, right?

GROSS: Exactly.

AIDELLS: And your family is looking at you. What is this gray mass on my plate?

LAUGHTER

GROSS: My guest is Bruce Aidells, co-author of "The Complete Meat Cookbook." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is Bruce Aidells, co-author of "The Complete Meat Cookbook."

Now pork is really making a comeback and it's being hyped as "the other white meat." You call it, in your book, the most versatile meat. What's so versatile about it?

AIDELLS: Because it has this wonderful propensity to go well with so many different flavorings. I'll give you an example. Pork tastes good with sweet things -- with apples, with prunes. And it also tastes really good with pungent things -- soy sauce, garlic, ginger.

It's just very versatile. It also has a very very nice texture in our mouth. A good flavor. Of course, you can roast it. You can stew it. You can pan fry it. The only thing about pork, because it's so much leaner, is you just have to be careful with the most popular cuts which are actually the loin cuts.

Like I say, you don't want to over cook them. You don't want to cook those to 170 degrees like the old recipes say.

GROSS: What about those boutique meats like buffalo and ostrich? There's more restaurants serving buffalo burgers and ostrich burgers and ostrich dinners.

AIDELLS: OK Terry, have you tried any of those?

GROSS: No, I haven't.

AIDELLS: Here's the deal. They have very very little fat which is good, but all these issues that I bought up earlier about really lean meats is very true. And the problem when you overcook things like ostrich for instance or venison, another wonderful meat.

If you get it passed, basically, really rare it starts to get what I call a livery quality where the meat gets very dry and pasty. And most people don't like that, including myself. So basically you're limited to cooking these pieces of meat very very rare.

And if that bothers you then I think that's pretty much going to eliminate trying those kinds of meats. Although in the case of buffalo, buffalo stew is wonderful. You can use some of those cuts from the shoulder and make some great buffalo stews. But I don't know about stewing ostrich, I would think that would be a bad idea.

GROSS: Did you grow up in the 1950s or '60s?

AIDELLS: Yeah, 1950s. My mother was a 1950s onion soup cook. Everything had powdered onion soup in it.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: What were the meats of choice that you were served by your mother?

AIDELLS: Lamb chops cut very thin and crisp. Hamburgers made with onion soup cooked 'til all juices were removed.

LAUGHTER

Chicken cooked until it was falling -- if you lift up the drum stick and the chicken would kind of fall onto your plate. Let's see, she did have a bunch of casserole's. One which I really hated called "ship wreck."

LAUGHTER

GROSS: What was that?

AIDELLS: Well, she said she learned it -- during the war, I guess, she worked in a shipyard and one of her co-workers -- it was noodles, green bell pepper, which I hated as a kid, canned corn, hamburger and spaghetti sauce.

All mixed together and baked until the noodles got really soft and mushy. If my mother listens to this she's going to kill me.

GROSS: Or she'll make it for you. A worse punishment.

AIDELLS: No. No. No.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Well, you say in your book that her favorite spice, or in fact her only spice, was garlic salt.

AIDELLS: Yes, actually the truth was it was Lowery's (ph) season salt, which was a more glorified version of garlic salt. It was on everything. And her way of doing a piece of chicken was cover it very generously with Lowery's and then roast it or bake it in the oven.

Yeah, that was -- fresh garlic was a rare event in my house. I think it was there when I went to high school. It's probably still there.

GROSS: Is there anything that you ate as a kid that you still like a lot now?

AIDELLS: Oh, yeah. Sure. My mother made a great brisket. You know, pot roast out of brisket. Delicious. Her short rib recipe was also very good with the old-fashioned with like chili sauce -- bottled chili sauce. But it's still good.

And I got to admit I did like the onion soup on the pot roast. You know, where you basically throw on a package of onion soup and a pot roast and some stock -- water. It's still pretty good. She had actually slipped that recipe into my book.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Now you have a doctoral degree, I believe, in endochronology (ph) and physiology.

AIDELLS: Well, yeah, endochronology is actually a branch of physiology. Yes, I do. It has nothing to do with anything I've said today, but don't hold it against me.

GROSS: Am I right that you were studying to be a cancer researcher?

AIDELLS: Yeah. No, I actually did it for five years. Worked down the road from Philadelphia in Bethesda, Maryland for a year or two. I actually studied breast cancer. But the truth was I found that I knew my career was not in science when I spent most of my afternoons planning the evening menu.

And when I'd go to the library and fall asleep on the journal papers I knew that I wasn't really motivated.

GROSS: So what was the turning point where you said I'm getting out of cancer research and into cooking?

AIDELLS: Well, the government took of care that. The government in the late '60s and '70s really withdrew a lot of funding for basic research. And so I -- well, this was at the end of the '70s actually. The lab I was working in was basically closed down so I kind of -- I had to look for a job somewhere. And the economic reality was that I was a better cook and somebody offered me a job.

GROSS: Well, since you know a lot, obviously, about medical research I'm wondering if you have any concerns about eating a lot of meat leading to either cancer or heart problems? How's your cholesterol?

AIDELLS: Moderately high. Not too high. It's sort of right there. Well, first of all, I'm not telling anybody they should eat a lot of meat. I just think that they shouldn't eliminate meat from their diet if they enjoy it.

But I'm not also saying to anyone that thinks that they shouldn't eat meat to go ahead and eat it. Or am I ever trying to talk a vegetarian into going back and eating a rare steak. But I think that if you're going to have meat you should enjoy it. And that's basically my message. Just get the most enjoyment you can out of whatever you're going to cook.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is Bruce Aidells, co-author of "The Complete Meat Cookbook."

Now you run a sausage business. What makes a sausage a sausage?

AIDELLS: Basically, not much. It's basically a mixture of ground meat and spices -- or ground protein. So poultry would classify as a sausage. Seafood -- I did draw the limit at vegetable sausages, which I kind of think is an oxymoron. I don't get it.

GROSS: Are they stuffed in intestine?

AIDELLS: Yeah, that's why it's kind of weird. That somebody who is a vegetarian would even want to think about a sausage. Yeah, they're stuffed in -- there are synthetic cases, but the most -- the natural -- what's called a natural casing is some part of the digestive tract of either a pig or a sheep or a cow.

All the tissues have been stripped away just leaving a kind of a fairly strong membrane, and that's the casing that you put the meat into.

GROSS: So how do you get the intestine casings? Do you just like buy lots of -- how does it get sent -- what shape is it in when you get it?

LAUGHTER

AIDELLS: It's a whole industry. They tend to come from countries like China, Spain and Denmark, which are all big pork producers. Once you've -- all the tissue part is removed and you just have the stuffed membrane they're salted and then they're dried. And then they're preserved forever.

And we get them re-hydrated in water and then -- which re-softens them and then we can put the sausages in. I'll have to bring you to my plant some day and watch it being made.

GROSS: Are they fragile?

AIDELLS: The size of the animal sort of determines the fragility. The sheep casings are the most fragile. And those are the kind that are used to make like little breakfast sausages or the old-fashioned hot dogs. Pork are sort of in the middle. And the beef ones are pretty tough.

And usually you want to pull a beef casing off. You don't usually want to eat that because it's so tough.

GROSS: Are you familiar with the mail order meat that's available now or you can send away for it?

AIDELLS: Absolutely. There's a number of companies. Well, let's go back to that issue of prime meat. It's so hard to find in most parts of the country. There's a couple of companies that you can actually purchase prime meat.

We didn't talk about another wonderful thing that really helps beef which is aging -- dry aging. Also very very hard to find. And some of these companies -- they're actually in Chicago -- sell prime dry aged steaks for a big chunk of money, but they're also very very good.

GROSS: Well, doesn't that meat spoil as it's going through the mail system?

AIDELLS: It's all done frozen.

GROSS: Oh.

AIDELLS: And it's not -- of course, it doesn't go through the mail it the goes through FedEx.

GROSS: Oh, right. I'm taking this a little too literally.

AIDELLS: That's why...

GROSS: ...with stamps on the carcass.

AIDELLS: I ship my sausages all over the country. It's all done FedEx. And we ship them in a styrofoam box with gel ice, and they start off frozen. They may not arrive frozen, but they're still completely cold and fine to either re-freeze or eat as is.

GROSS: Bruce Aidells. He's the co-author of "The Complete Meat Cookbook." Yesterday, it was nominated for a James Beard Award.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Bruce Aidells
High: Cookbook author Bruce Aidells. He's co-authored the new book "The Complete Meat Cookbook." It's the first comprehensive examination of meat cooking to come along in 20 years. Recipes include: the classic hamburger, not-like-mom's meat loaf and beef stew with mushrooms, onions and dark beer. Aidells is also the founder of Aidells Sausage Company. Aidellis' previous cookbook, "Hot Links & Country Flavors" won a Julia Child Award.
Spec: Food and Beverages; Lifestyle; Culture; Bruce Aidells

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Bruce Aidells
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Questlove spins the soundtrack of his life in 'Music is History'

In his new book, Roots co-founder Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson starts in 1971 and moves year-by-year through his life, writing about memories, turning points and the songs he listened to.

42:18

In 'Maid,' a single mother struggles to make it on minimum wage

While raising her young daughter, Stephanie Land cleaned houses to scrape by. It was back-aching work for low pay. Her memoir inspired the Netflix series, Maid. Originally broadcast Jan. 29, 2019.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue