Preparing the Peppers for Papas a la Huancaina

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 17,418
    Chef Victor Albisu demonstrates how to prepare the peppers for Papas a la Huancaina.

    Victor Albisu

    Victor Albisu may have been born in northern Virginia, but he seems “born” with Latin food in his blood. Victor’s mother is Peruvian, his father is Cuban; one grandfather was a baker; and two aunts owned their own restaurants in Miami – Latin food was central to his upbringing. In fact, he doesn’t have a single childhood memory that doesn’t involve some delectable Latin cooking or other. Then he went to le Cordon Bleu. But that’s getting ahead of the story. Victor spent every summer through his teens with family in Miami, pressing his first sandwiches at age five, mastering steaks a la plancha by seven, and paying close attention as his grandfather killed, gutted, and roasted whole pigs and caught, cleaned, and fried whole fish; while his grandmother made the rice and beans, empanadas and croquettes. Back at home, his mother, a great cook in her own right and owner of a Latin grocery store, reinforced his culinary bent. In high school, Victor apprenticed with the Argentine and Uruguayan butchers at his mother’s shop. “Beef in Argentina is like wine in France,” he explains, “the style of butchering is distinctive, and the trade is highly respected.” Working six days a week, often until 9 o’clock at night, he learned not only about cutting meat, but making chorizo (sausages) and matambres (stuffed meats) and just about everything else about the Argentine meat culture. Victor’s family had always promoted a lively interest in international politics, and when he went off to George Mason University, he planned to make that his career. In five years, he completed two degrees, but after graduation it took just a few years working with international contractors for USAID to learn that the theoretical side of international affairs interested him much more than the practical. So at age 24, he sold everything, moved to Paris, and enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu. He received his basic, intermediate and superior diplomas in cuisine, pastry, and wine, performing his internship at Arpège, a 3-star Michelin restaurant. “There I was living in the thick of Les Halles, keeping restaurant hours and woken at six every morning by a fishmonger yelling about scallops – I loved every minute of it.” Back in the states, Victor was hired as Executive Sous Chef under David Craig at The Tabard Inn, moving with him to La Bergerie in Alexandria, Virginia. From there, he went on to work at Washington’s 701, Ardeo, and Bardeo. He then became Chef de Cuisine at Ceiba restaurant and is currently pursuing his own ventures.

    Hi, I am Victor Albisu. We are making Papa a la Huancaina. Right now, I am going to be seeding and de-veining the aj Amarillos, which is a traditional yellow pepper indigenous to Peru. We are going to prep this, so that we can saut it and make the sauce for the Huancaina dish. So first, you cut in long ways down the side, and pat it open. You'll find that there are veins and seeds and gently run your knife, careful not to cut your left hand. If you like it spicy, you can leave that in. It's still going to be spicy, even without it. Here, we cut it into strips, and into squares, same procedure with all three chillies. These chilies you can find at Latin markets all over the area. They come preserved, and they also come in a puree form, but this step that we are doing now, is in essence, creating the puree from the original chilly. So, it's always more authentic, and the depth of flavor is much more pronounced when you make your own puree of, your own chilly puree, and it's not that hard. So, try to get a rough chop of all these chillies. Sometimes you can even just drag these right out, see that. You can just drag them without going crazy and trying to be technical about it. Slice it, slice it, and you get to go. We put these back in our plate. Remember these come preserved, so they come in a brine. So, when sauting them, be very careful, because they might splatter up on you a little bit. I use an extra virgin olive oil blend, to get that nice and hot. Next step, slice red onions. As long as the onions and garlic that we are using next are the same size, you have no problem as far as each individual ingredient. So, you can cut them a little bit bigger, you are going to have to cook them a little bit longer, but they have to be all uniform, to make sure that the flavors are all equal, basically when you are cooking it. So, obviously it cannot be so big that it's going to be caught in the blender. Add the garlic mince; you start to get a real nice aroma. The onion, garlic, olive oil stench is very common in Latin kitchens. It's something that generally is permeating throughout our kitchen here. At this point, once you start to get a little bit of color, I am going to season the onions and garlic, little salt. I am going to add the aj Amarillos. You hear it start to sing a little bit when you add them. Thats from the brine. Let this cook down, just a little bit. You dont want to get too much color on it, because you want to maintain that vibrant orange color from the aj Amarillos. Next, well be pureing the dish together in a -- pureing all the ingredients together in a blender and finishing the sauce for the potatoes.