all photos: Shauna Alexander
While we’ll be the first ones to admit that the pig trend in DC is edging towards being WAY out of control, BLT Steak’s WHOLE HOG cooking class is refreshingly both non-gimmicky and useful. The concept behind Chef Victor Albisu’s cooking series is simple (the themes rotate): a show-and-tell-and-then-eat almost four hour session spotlighting good ingredients, techniques that are not intimidating to you as a home cook, and a focus on Spanish, Cuban and Italian flavors Alfaro himself grew up with and is, obviously, still enamored with/most comfortable around.
It helps that Chef Albisu is a funny man, and a man that can tell a story entertaining enough that it distracts you from the fact that he is removing eyes out of a pig’s head (the only thing we’re NOT going to use in the class, we’re informed) and also the kind of man that allows for a little control to be relinquished: during the class, everyone is invited to ask questions, and one of the guests even steps up to the cutting board to butcher the meat. Everyone is having fun AND Everyone is learning.
First up, we’re handed a bacon bloody mary (yes!) and off we go with the menu. The idea is that we’ll learn how to make the (and then eat) the following:
- an amouse bouche of crispy bacon and cheese baked oysters
- Gruyere Cheese Popovers (served with herbed lard instead of butter)
- a Head Cheese and Parsley salad
- Asparagus Salad with a poached egg, Shaved Serrano Ham, Piquillos, Marconas and Manchego Vinaigrette
- Rolled and stuffed Pork Loin
- Stewed White Beans Piperade with Chistorra Sausage
- Whole Roasted Pig with Piquillo Romesco
- and Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies + Pig Ear & Oat Crips with Rhubarb/Strawberry Compote and Vanilla Cream stuff in between
As you can see-no pig part is going unused here. If you are hungry now, you can only imagine how hungry you are WHILE WATCHING IT ALL PREPARE.
And while yes, you’re given detailed recipes for all of these, in a neat folder to carry home and cherish forever, Albisu is open to improvising: sure you can throw a cow’s foot in your gelee (to add flavor fast), and that manchego vinaigrette can just be Manchego cheese. After all, it is all about flavors that naturally go together (and have gone together for forever, it seems) and who are we to question it. To his credit, nothing seems to hard: this class is here first and foremost to be useful to you as a home chef and then then there to impress.
The greatest value is in the “pro tips”: the best shaved cheese comes from a microplane, how to adapt the cooking process to braising, options for all that pork fat you have left (spreading it on bread with herbs and paprika seems like a good one) and local stores where to get you Piperade style beans (they’re bigger than the biggest beans you’ve seen and when done properly, almost like a little ball of mashed potatoes enveloped in a thin skin-the ultimate comfort food), as well as the butchery suggestions: EVEN IF YOU SEE ME CUTTING TOWARDS MYSELF, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS CUT AWAY FROM YOUR BODY. Please.
The vibe in the room is jovial: people who have never met (Albisu’s target audiences seem for these classes seem to include couples and/or single men obsessed with pork) become fast friends bonded by nothing more than their love of ham and head cheese and by the time everyone sits down to eat (the class moves from a demonstration area to the dining room) everyone is ready to enjoy the food and each other’s company. Which, I guess, is what a good meal is all about: bringing people together.
Intrigued? Upcoming classes include:
- May 21: Memorial Day BBQ Class; get prepared for the biggest grilling holiday of the year
- July 16: South American Asado Class; techniques from the Argentinean countryside
- September 24: Snout to Tail Beef Class featuring naturally raised meat