Chicken Apple Sausage is a mainstay in many a home refrigerator, the most popular sausage in the offerings of Aidells Sausage Co. Who hasn’t sliced one up and sauteed it, then tossed it with pasta for dinner? Or who hasn’t marveled at the thought of an Artichoke and Garlic, Spicy Mango with Jalapeno or Habanero and Green Chile sausage?
Bruce Aidells was the man who changed our perception of sausage and the way we eat it. The poultry-based concoctions that include vegetables, fruits and cheese are tasty, convenient and perceived as healthful, too. The Aidells brand has become ubiquitous, though hardly the artisanal product its creator envisioned.
Aidells is in Hawaii this month to conduct classes in charcuterie and sausage-making for culinary students and professionals at Kapiolani Community College, sponsored by Hale Aina Ohana, Hawaii’s culinary education foundation. He answered some questions via phone from his home in Northern California.
Question: How did you get started in the sausage business?
Answer: I was working on my Ph.D. in biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and opened a restaurant on campus. I couldn’t pay myself, but I got my Ph.D.; the restaurant experience turned out to be significant. I did cancer research for a number of years until the lab funding dried up. I was offered a job as a chef, and out of economic necessity I took it. Several years later I was fired and began making Louisiana andouille sausage for chefs.
Q: Why poultry sausages?
A: In the 1980s, chicken was perceived as a healthier choice, and you could control the amount of fat. My first sausage was a pheasant sausage; there was a pheasant farmer who could sell the breast but not the thighs. So I made sausage with the thighs; the farmer went out of business, and I decided to go into chicken and turkey sausage. It was driven by consumer demand.
Q: What’s the key to a good poultry sausage?
A: Salt and some fat. Use the thigh fat; take it off separately and grind it finer than the meat. Then you need an ingredient to add moisture and flavor like apples, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted chili peppers and artichokes.
Q: Are you still part of Aidells Sausage Co.?
A: The company started in 1983; I ran it for 10 years. Then I sold 60 percent to another person, was there for another 10 years and ultimately sold the remaining 40 percent. I started it to serve the restaurant industry, but the company now stresses the retail side. I’m not involved at all and generally don’t eat the product because it’s too salty for me.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m finishing an update of "The Complete Meat Cookbook" published in 1998. The biggest change in the world of meat is that choices have expanded due to the availability of product via the Internet. People’s attitudes on beef and pork have changed, too, because of investigative journalists. In this book I’m trying to cover every cut of meat, and it will include bison and goat in addition to beef, pork, lamb and veal. It’s due out in 2012.
I also do a weekly television show on the Live Well Network on cable. And I write for magazines like Bon Appetit, Eating Well and Fine Cooking.
Q: Are you involved with your wife’s business? (Aidells’ wife is award-winning San Francisco chef Nancy Oakes of Boulevard Restaurant.)
A: Only to look over financial statements once in a while. We don’t do anything culinary together; I can’t even get her to come on my TV show.