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Pig class goes whole hog at BLT Steak


BLT executive chef Victor Albisu with a teaching example. (Bonnie Benwick/The Washington Post)

Washington protesters had beautiful weekend weather for exercising their First Amendment rights. But I felt a little sorry for the ones who chose to de-camp near 16th and Eye streets NW on Saturday morning. They had to pass by BLT Steak -- where an herby, savory suckling pig was roasting out front in a La Caja China box. The restaurant had opened its window-type doors for another in a series of executive chef Victor Albisu’s meaty classes.

This one was all about pork. For a group of 26 or so, he demonstrated how to make fresh chorizo (Argentine-style), cured bacon (easy), a white-bean piperade (delicious as a side for grilled sausage) and a mess o’ pressed pork belly (amazing and rich).

The 34-year-old chef entertained the mostly male crowd with pig tales of his Cuban American upbringing. He grew up in a butcher shop. His grandfather used to keep a small knife in one pocket and a small chunk of cured ham in the other. “Pork is near and dear to my heart,” he said, and went on to prove the ways. He grills sausage at his home in Vienna every Sunday. His 3-year-old son’s already a fan. Albisu also explained how his countrymen had “hijacked” the roasting-box technique from the Chinese workers who built Cuba’s infrastructure long ago.


From Saturday's pork class at BLT Steak: pressed pork belly (from top left); the smallish La Caja China box in front of the restaurant; the pork belly, after confit and before it's pressed; a table of participants halfway through the five-course lunch. (Bonnie Benwick/The Washington Post)

The chef’s cousin, Dan Albisu, tended to the box and was responsible for bringing in the pig and the pricey Spanish ham. He runs a family wholesale meat business called Ziggy’s Finest, in Northeast D.C. (202-842-3877). You can order the boxes here and Virginia pigs from him (starting at about $2 a pound), or get pigs through A&H Gourmet and Seafood Market in Bethesda (301-986-9692) or through your favorite butcher.

The recipes that were demo’ed showed up in the subsequent five-course lunch. But before that, we had sliders of confit bacon and BLT barbecue sauce as well as charcuterie, which included Iberico bellota ham, soppressata and a house-made pork liver pate. Among the over-the-top specialties that you should run, not walk, to try:

  • Albisu’s whipped lardo: garlic, olive oil and Italian lardo, done up in a food processor. A little dab'll do you, on a piece of bread, or on a BLT popover.
  • His broccolini with black currants, balsamic vinegar and tidbits of guanciale.

Arlington resident Jim Shippey came hoping to see a bit more hands-on carvery and such. Still, he gave the class good overall marks by the end of the three-hour session. Perhaps that had something to do with the crisp Serrano ham tuille speared into a ball of cantaloupe sorbet for dessert. I give him credit for bravery in the face of so many calories; he’s on Weight Watchers.

-- Bonnie Benwick

P.S. General manager Adam Willamowsky says Albisu’s classes are the most popular among all those held at BLT Steaks in the United States. The next class in D.C. is scheduled for May and back to grilling; maybe a write-in campaign would keep chef Albisu on the pig track?

By The Food Section  |  March 22, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  Chefs  | Tags: BLT Steak, Bonnie Benwick, Victor Albisu, chefs  
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