A quick note about Obamacare, as it relates to food.

I give too much of this shit away for free. I wrote a (moderately) lengthy diatribe, in response to some conservative troll-bag on Eater National’s article about a racist BBQ restaurant owner in—hold on, your never going to believe this— Arkansas, who compares Obamacare —also incredulously— to slavery. It’s not that I’m a die hard, foaming at the lips, supporter of the PP&ACA. But for all it’s flaws, it’s a start. Sure, it’ll be a gazillion more years, after America has largely been crushed under the weight of it’s “citizen’s” narrow self-interest and consumer bloodlust, before we do any better, but for now this is what we got.

That being said, the vicious rhetoric from the right wing about the law is, even to my silly little head, as wrong as it’s possible to be about anything. The law’s citizen detractors are a funny little bunch since they take their cues from politicians they claim to loathe but in fact slavishly revere, which is why they faithfully parrot all of their factually incorrect talking points. Meanwhile, we all look like a bunch of spoiled and stupid children to the rest of the civilized world. I mean, who cares what the Canucks think, but the Germans… the Germans practically built this country, and gave us beer. Now they look down their mustard-stained noses at our lack of socio-political savvy. So here’s this tool’s comment, which sort of embodies every falsehood perpetuated in one short paragraph (and I gotta say, I admire and envy his [or her] concision):

Stay out of politics Eater, especially when you’re posting opinionated wordage instead of facts. You say “Some restaurants protest the Affordable Care Act by cutting employees’ hours”?. ummmm NO, no small business owner is going to protest the government by punishing their employees. They are cutting employees hours because Obamacare is destroying their business, the 40 hour work week, and the middle class. They can’t afford to keep all their employees at 40 hours a week so they are cutting them down to 29 hours (because apparently the government thinks full time is actually 30 hours and not 40). This is the only way these small businesses can afford to stay in business.

And the response:

Where politics and food overlap, I believe it’s plenty pertinent for eater to post about it. As to the “substance” of your post: Obamacare only requires businesses employing 50 or more people to provide health coverage, and subsidizes smaller ones to help defer the cost. As the country moves more and more to a service based economy, with low wages and few benefits (besides, perhaps the shift drink and staff meal) it’s important that employees have some way to obtain health insurance and, as conservative an idea as it is, the market based mandate seems to be the only politically feasible way forward.

Can restaurants afford to give their employees coverage? Well, a restaurant that has 50 or more employees very likely has more than one location, so there’s some money right there. Should they grow before they take care of their staff? I guess that depends on what sort of a person you are. As the sort of a person who has spent the vast majority of the past 20 years busting his ass in the back-of-the-house of successful restaurants, and being compensated to the tune of 10 or 12 dollars an hour without benefits, I fall into the camp that says it’s time for restaurants to step up and start taking care of their employees.

You may believe that, “Well Mike, that’s sort of your fault for working for such low wages for so long,” which is fine; I considered it a labor of love. But it’s pretty disgusting and self-serving for the dining public to think that they should get to pay as little as possible for their meals, and that the people who make their food should just have to suffer. Someone has to cook the food. We can’t all be important big shots with well paying jobs and health insurance, can we? Well maybe now we can at least all have the chance to get health insurance.

And that’s the damn truth. I don’t know what the benefits situation is at all these mini-empires that every chef in Portland suddenly feels they need to operate, but if they don’t currently offer so-called “affordable” insurance, hopefully they’re now going to have to. Only at New Seasons Market was I ever offered insurance, and that came with the indignity of wearing a goddamn name tag and baseball cap, like a teenager making french fries. It also came with the utter pain in the ass of dealing with a megalithic, labyrinthine bureaucracy, a dozen or so bosses who didn’t know my job from digging ditches, reams of paperwork, and terrible, terrible “charcuterie,” but hey that’s the price of comfort.

It’s often said by cooks that they “do it for love,” and that’s fine. But doing what you love, especially when that love entails long, shitty hours, screaming adrenalin addicts, high heat, low pay, and little (no) respect, shouldn’t mean that you also lack basic health care.

Again, the ACA only goes part of the way toward fixing this terrific injustice perpetuated daily against my comrades behind the line. Most single outlet companies still won’t have to provide insurance, and the cooks making those piss ass wages will still have to pay for part of their health insurance. But that’s the unfortunate political reality of the country we live in. On the plus side, I imagine that a small empire would rather keep all their cooks on full time than go through the hassle of hiring more people and training them, and writing longer, more complicated schedules.

Grinder Bolo

Ragú alla Bolognese is, as you may know, the prince of spaghetti sauce. There are as many variations as there are Italians. Maybe more. The basic method is pretty straightforward: sauté the aromatic vegetables, add ground meat and cook, add wine and cook down, add milk and cook down, add tomatoes and cook down. The biggest pain in the ass is chopping all the vegetables small enough. There’s a bunch of recipes on the internet, and in nearly every book ever written on Italian cookery. But here’s the truth: If there’s a million variations, and they all taste pretty good, we don’t really need a recipe.

I form the base (the soffritto) of mine with carrots, onion, celery, garlic and some kind of cured pork product. Whatever works. Bacon is fine but adds a smokey flavor that no one is going to describe as “authentic,” whatever that means. Equally cheap andOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA available is salt pork, which is essentially unsmoked bacon, but it lacks complexity. Most recipes call for pancetta, which is expensive. Aged ham (prosciutto, serrano, Virginia, etc…) trimmings would be great. If I had my druthers (and if you see my druthers, please return them) I would always use guanciale, cured jowl. The point is this: authenticity can be translated many ways and although most cookbook authors and fancy chefs insist that you go to great cost and extravagance to obtain precisely the product that the native speakers of the culinary language would use—there’s little chance that you would see an Italian grandmother spending $15 or $20 a pound on cured pork.

Then I add ground beef and pork and brown that. Many recipes call only for beef, and that’s fine too, but I have a lot of pork around (a cuisine born of necessity.) Paul Bertolli recommends repeated browning of the beef, adding stock periodically to stop the browning process and release the bits from the bottom of the pan, a technique called insaporire. A good idea, but I don’t even use stock, although wine or water would accomplish some of the same result. Just don’t let a lack of beef stock stop you from making it. I do add wine, usually a crisp, acidic white, sometimes mixed with a little red, and cook that down by about half. Don’t come on here and tell me that red wine is for red meats and vice versa. You are fucking wrong—you’ve been doing it wrong your whole life.

Then I add chicken livers chopped fine and mixed with milk, and cook that down by about half again. If organs make you OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsqueamish, your loss. Some authorities, including those at the L’Accademia Italiana della Cucina (I love it when Europeans don’t realize their being classist and exclusive) in Italy, who apparently make the rules for how food gets cooked there (what is it with Europeans and their endless codification?,) use cream. I find that too rich. Then I add tomatoes, either fresh peeled or canned. Fresh peeled tomatoes are rarely going to be as intense as canned and will probably want a little tomato paste. Seems a crime, but that’s how it goes. I usually add a couple of bay leaves and some crushed red pepper as well, but I seem to be alone in that preference.

Ragu takes a couple of hours to cook down to its requisite thickness. It should be thick. It should be a gestalt. Ideally, you want to serve this on fresh papardelle. Alternatively, I put it on spaghetti and top it with diced raw yellow onion, boiled kidney beans and shredded cheddar cheese, Cincinnati style. I call that one the Ohio Guido.

“So, what can the Gangster tell us new about this Italian classic, besides the Ohio Guido, which is both a slur and gross OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsounding?”

That all that tedious chopping at the beginning is entirely unnecessary. See, I took all those vegetables and meat and bacon and threw it all together in my Tor-Rey meat grinder and put it through the quarter inch (coarse) die, combining three steps into one. I kind of think of it like a Bolognese sausage. Some jerkoff chef type will certainly get in a huff about that, but you know why that is; it’s because he gets paid to chop vegetables by hand. Let’s face it, after you spend nearly three hours cooking all this meat and vegetables together, no one is going to be able to appreciate the super fine 1/16th by 1/16th inch dice you put on all those vegetables. Likewise, browning all that meat is going to give the vegetables plenty of time to sauté. I kind of suspect that this method is better since it physically combines the various components of the base before cooking.

You’re still looking for a recipe? Okay, I used about 3 pounds of beef to 2 pounds of pork, a pound of bacon and 2 pounds of soffritto vegetables. The vegetables should be comprised of about half onion, a third or so carrot and rather less celery (I often wonder if celery is even necessary or good.) I ground all that together and put half of it in the freezer for the next time I want to eat Bolognese. To my four pounds of bolo sausage I added probably two glasses of wine and two fine chopped chicken livers in about a cup and a half of milk. Come to think of it, you could probably just put those livers through the grinder. A  Try a quart and a half of  tomatoes, two tablespoons of paste, two bay leaves, a pinch of red pepper flake and salt and pepper are all it prolly needs. If you wanted it more tomatoey, not at all authentic but good nonetheless, you could add some of the tomato later in the cooking process so that it retains its bite and sweetness and vegetal deliciousness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So get yourself a meat grinder. It don’t heave to be all fancy like mine. They got decent-seeming hand crank ones over on Amazon for about 60 bucks. Likewise, the Kitchen Aid attachment is under 50. As a bonus, you can then make your own sausages, which will be the subject of an upcoming post wherein I strip a pig’s head of it’s flesh and turn that into pickles. Delicious.

Update: I originally stated that a quart of tomatoes was good enough. I was wrong.