Friday Dec. 14th
I watch as Chef Joe Cicala of Le Virtú methodically breaks down a 30lb suckling pig in roughly 20 minutes. Neat, arcing slices around the limbs are juxtaposed with the dig of the blade in between the joints followed by the hammering of his fist upon the handle. After the hind legs are extracted, he carefully, yet relentlessly takes the blade deeper through the space between skin and muscle, meeting the spinal column on one side until coming at it from the other. The blade makes short work of the connective tissue under the spine as he goes from tail to head. After two hefty thwaps from a massive butcher’s knife, he pulls the column away, leaving an upside down porcine rug, one whose pinkish meat resembles the tenuous bands left clinging to salmon skin.
It’s just one of the show-stoppers of a 40 course marathon set to run 8 ½ hours(it would go a bit longer), the meal to carry on like an epic piece of music with movements that build and build before fading and rising again, each section of the menu arranged in stanzas that progress from lighter to heavier fare, with lighter intervals interspersed in between to aid digestion and reengage the palate.
As for that pig, it’s to be preceded and followed by a super-group of roast beasts: rabbit, duck, lamb, and cow.
Which is fitting since the centuries old Abruzzi feast of La Panarda was traditionally held to coincide with the slaughter of livestock and provide a bit of warm respite during winter, while also celebrating staples of the region (farro, saffron, polenta, etc.) and a deeply ingrained hunting culture—hence, the rabbit, duck, and wild boar on the menu. Originally a way for feudal lords to give something back to the local peasants, the celebration—Le Virtù’s 2nd—is a grander way of bringing more of an unknown culture to East Passyunk in South Philadelphia.
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