Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cotechino - That which started my adventure!

This is the salume that started my adventure into curing meats.

These are available from a few Italian butchers in New York, but I haven't seen them anywhere else. They're pretty uncommon here in the US. Cotechino is a traditional, cooked, New Year's sausage that was created in the town of Modena. It's a MUST at every New Year's party in Italy and is eaten with lentils, polenta or mashed potatoes. Alternately, a Zampone is eaten which is the same recipe, except the the mixture is stuffed into a deboned front pig leg, instead of casings. These sausages are supposed to bring fortune in the new year (with the lentils bringing money). The name "Cotechino" derives from the Italian word for pig skin; cotiche, and as you might imagine, it contains a fair amount of them.

The pig skin that's ground in with the meat and fat gives the cotechino a very sticky unctuous mouthfeel after it's been cooked for a few hours very gently in water. The sausage is pretty heavily spiced and has a delicious assertive flavor of traditional Christmas spices and herbs, as well as porky goodness. It's most definitely my favorite cooked sausage.

I've varied my recipe every year I've made this (about 5 or 6 years), and I'm still searching for a recipe that gets me the results I remember eating in Italy, which were made by a small town butcher in Modena. Mine are great, but those were fantastic. This year i decided to use pork belly instead of the usual fatback I use. I'll be cooking mine next week, so I'll see if it was a good decision.

IngredientQuantity(g)% of Meat+Fat+Skin
Pork shoulder meat
Pork belly (about 60/40 fat/lean)
Pork Skin (fatless)
Cure #17
Coriander powder
Black pepper (cracked large)
White pepper (ground fine)

Since i haven't blogged in a while, I forgot to take pictures for everything, but I think I got all the important stages. Remember to keep everything you're grinding COLD COLD COLD. After i cubed up my meat and fat i put them in the freezer for about 1.5 hours to cool way down. It will grind better and won't smear the fat as much.

Pig skin is incredibly tough, so much so that if I were to try grinding it my grinder would likely explode. It has to be boiled first. I don't know if butchers in Italy do this, or if their grinders are strong enough to grind the skin raw, but somehow I can't imagine they are able to. So the pig skin is boiled until it is fork tender. This takes about 30 minutes. Once this is done remove as much excess fat attached to the skin as possible. This can be done before boiling, but i think it's a little easier to do it after. This picture shows what the skin looks like after boiling and cooling a little.
The pork skin gets cut up into chunks so it can fit into the grinder throat.

The pig skin is ground alone first. I used a 3/16" plate (the small kitchenaid plate that comes with the grinder)

Here is a picture of the pork belly. You can see that it's about 60/40 or 50/50 fat to lean. It was nice looking pork belly.

The skin is removed and the cut up into chunks.

Cut up pork belly. Not very exciting...but delicious!

This is the pork shoulder i used. It was trimmed a little, but I didn't spent a whole lot of time trimming it.

I forgot to get a picture of the ground skin alone. Anyhow, it looked like a big pile of sticky beads:)
Mix the ground pork skin with the chunked meat and pork belly.

Closeup of the belly, meat and skin mixture. You can see the skin looks like little pellets.

This is the spice mixtures i used. The spices were all (except the large cracked black pepper) ground in a coffee grinder, and mixed with the salt.

The spice mixture is mixed into the meats and skin and well massaged to distribute everything.

The mixture is passed through a 1/4" grinder plate (the large kitchenaid standard plate).
Note how the meat and fat chunks are pretty distinct. That's because the mixture was nice and cold before grinding.

The ground mixture is mixed well by hand and sort of gently kneaded to develop the bind. You'll know it's ready to stuff when you get a white film of protein building up on the sides of the bowl.

You can sort of see that in this picture.

This batch made 6 750g cotechini. I think 750g is a good size as it'll feed about 4 or 5 people as a main dinner with lentils or some other side dish. Cotechino is a VERY heavy dish, it sits in your stomach like a brick, so i don't advise eating this and then going out partying:)

I used a pretty large artificial casing. It's about 80mm in diameter. I like the cotechino to be quite thick.

To store, they can be vacuum packed and frozen. I've kept it this way for a year, and then eaten it. It's still great.

Some people dry their cotechini as if it were a salame for 5 or 6 days. I've never done that, but i imagine it would be pretty good!.

To cook it, the casing is punctured with a skewer (a large toothpick) in multiple places (i punctured these about 40 times) to allow some of the fat to come out while it's cooking. It is then wrapped VERY tightly in aluminum foil, closing off the ends like a giant candy, and put into cold water. Bring the water to a GENTLE (190 deg. F) simmer, and simmer for about 2-3 hours (or put the pot of water/cotechino in the oven at about 200 deg. F . After 2-3 hours turn off the heat and let it sit in the water for about 20 minutes. Carefully remove it from the water, remove the casing (which may have burst), and slice into slices about 1/2" thick. Serve HOT over polenta or lentils or mashed potatoes. It has to be eaten hot, otherwise the gelatinous skin hardens and you miss what makes it so good.

This year i think i'm going to try cooking one in one of the vacuum bags. My theory is that there will be less flavor loss to the water it's cooking in. There may also be less fat loss, which may or may not be good! We'll see. When i cook it next week i'll put another post up to report back.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm still here, and a glimpse into the next project!

Hey everybody just wanted to let you know i'm still around, even if not posting right now. I just moved and as you might imagine, my wife thinks unpacking boxes, hanging pictures and painting stuff should take precedence over curing meats! Sounds crazy to me too!

Anyhow, i'm planning my next post. It'll be cotechino, which is a cooked italian new years sausage. It's the salume that started it all!

Stay tuned please!