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.


Anonymous said...


Glad to see you're back at it, and sharing your detailed and delicious recipes on the blog. It's great to see someone else using the descriptive phrase "porky goodness."

I think using vacuum bags for poaching is the way to go. You will definitely lose less sausage flavor to the poaching liquid. If you don't prick the casings, you should also lose less fat. Whether that makes the sausage too rich, you'll have to tell us!

Jasonmolinari said...

Thanks Larbo. The casing is always pricked, otherwise it might be too fatty...i've already punctured all of these..maybe next year i'll try one unpoked!

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you're back at it. This seems like a recipe within the capability of humble sausagemakers like myself.

liteluvr said...

Glad to have you back! I've been watching and waiting. With regards to cooking in the vacuum bag, I think you'll be pleased with the results. I routinely smoke brisket and pork butts, and vacuum seal serving sized portions. Then I reheat in gently boiling water for an hour or so. If the bag sealed good in the first place, it should withstand the boil to reheat.

Happy New Year, and look forward to more of your posts. I'm planning on tackling a coppa this year (my first), so I might give you a yell for some pointers.

Jasonmolinari said...

liteluvr: i've cooked in vac bags quite often as sous vide...i'll see how it works for a cotechino.

If you need help with the coppa let me know..

Anonymous said...

That looks like an awesome recipe! You should check out the recipe in the river cottage meat book, he says to just cut the skins roughly by hand and not boil them, its next to impossible! Try breading your slices with mustard and panko and pan frying its unbelievable

Jasonmolinari said...

Thanks foodhead.
Agreed, cutting the skin before boiling is a real pain. Is the RCM book saying to grind it when raw too? It seems impossible to me.

Frying leftover cotechino is also pretty classic in Italy. I may give it a try this year if i have leftover (never seem to have leftovers:) ). Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

hi, any idea once we thawn a cured meat and then freeze it again. will there be any problem?

Anonymous said...

oh, i'm just a passer by.
i posted above.


Jasonmolinari said...

Do you mean a cotechino re-freezing? I thikn it should be fine, especially if you have it vacuum packed.

Larbo said...

In my experience, as well, the vacuum sealing works great for cooking and reheating. But when I put the bag in a pot of water, I like to keep the temperature down between 160 and 170. If the water hits boiling, you'll be melting too much of the fat out of your sausage or brisket. And what's brisket without the fat!

Jasonmolinari said...

Larbo, the problem is that cooking the cotechino at 160 or 170 would take an inordinately long time to break the skin down to collagen, which is what makes this sausage so good.
So, it could be done, but it would take 48/72/96 hours.
Regular sausages don't have this problem, since they don't contain pig skin.

David said...


I made Cotechino for the first time this weekend. I used the recipe from Bruce Aidell's book (using pancetta instead of pork belly). I boiled the skin for about an hour before chilling and grinding. I let the sausages age in the refrigerator for 2 days before cooking them.

To cook them, I wrapped them in foil as you described and poached them for an hour in the oven using water-filled hotel pans.

I do not have anything to compare them to, but I am very pleased with the results. I let the sausages I wasn not ready to eat cool in the foil. When I unwrapped them , they were encased in a layer of dense gelatin.

I will be making this one again.


Jasonmolinari said...

Sounds like a winner David!

Anonymous said...


Why did you remove the skin from the fresh pork belly? Could this skin be cooked and added to the larger piece of skin you use?

Jasonmolinari said...

I don't see why you couldn't use the skin from the belly meat.

I have read that one should use the back skin since it is tougher, but i have no idea where on the pig the skin i used came from.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Machiavelli said...

To COTECHINO, I like to add meat with muscle (osso buco-- meat around the feet), snouts, parts of ears, and sometime even heat. I also add hot Italian allspice and white wine.
One of my favourite dishes is to serve the cotechino with cabbage but mix in lentils or barley.

Unknown said...

I don't know what kind of grinder you have -if it does not have a 1hP motor or better this may not work- but if you slice the skin into say, 0.5" wide strips lay them out and freeze them, they may yet go through the grinder.

Jasonmolinari said...

Bob, thanks for the tip. I use the kitchen aid attachment as a grinder, which is definitely not a 1hp dedicated grinder.

Cooking said...

Hi, I've made Cotechino in a restaurant setting before. It was a very interesting and delicious sausage to work with. Our recipe was a bit different

2 parts pork shoulder
1 part braised pigs head (cheeks removed and jowles trimed down , to be diced and added raw with the shoulder)

The shoulder cheeks and jowls are diced and allowed to cure

The head is seasoned entirley by the braise (pigs skull stock,aeromatic veg and cotechino spices) Once the head has been allowed to cool in the braising liquid it is diced up and mixed with the raw meat, ground, and stuffed(we used natural pork casing). Finally poached in a diluted mixture of the pork head braising liquid.

The result is a very tasty sausage with a sticky and very meaty texture like nothing else.

We in fact served it with lentils soup. It may not have been the most authentic Cotechino, but it was made with plenty of love using a very happy American pigs.

Hope I have provided some usefully insight, thanks for the fun and informative web site.

Cheers from Chi-town!

Jasonmolinari said...

That sounds interesting and delicious. Thanks for the insight into the commercial world.

gabagool said...

Your recipe is the closest thing to the recipe I use when I make it for my restaurant....and it is OUT OF THIS WORLD GOOD. When I use a good pig, something grown on a small farm, nice and fat....this cotechino is BETTER than ANY i have had in Italy AND here that my nonna or ma cooked, or zias or ANYBODY.

Now, your's is close, so it may not be different but the recipe I use (and tweek a bit) is found at:


Try it. I think YOU could possibly make one of the greatest of all time. Mine was OUT OF THIS WORLD, with that fantastic mouth feel, the stickiness associated with slowly cooked skin. I poach it slow, cut and charcoal grill it, and serve it with polenta, rabe and black lentels, with a side of some kind of mustarda. NOt authentic but a mix of northern and my southern roots.

I hope you like it. Im SURE you will work wonders with it.

gabagool said...

Shoot Jason
I just read your comments here, there are a LOT of knowledgable cotechino lovers here....wow.

I noticed there was some talk about grinding the skin. It is tough, I slice it inot strips with a super sharp knife, that way, it will go through my grinder. BUt I have a commercial butcher grinder, one that will grind 300 lbs at a time, so the engine is strong...but let me tell you, that skin will NOT go through UNLESS i cut the boogers into thin strips.


Jasonmolinari said...

Nick, Len's page is GREAT..a great resource for recipes and methods.
This year i might have to try grinding the skin raw, but i'm afraid my grinder might explode :) I'll try with strips and freezing them.

Mike said...

Thank you for your site, your comments and pointers. I see you season your sausage the way I do; before it's ground up. I believe that's the only way to fully distribute the spice, and besides, over-handling after grinding is never good.

Jasonmolinari said...

Mike, i used to do that, now that i cut the meat in strips instead of cubes i actually season afterward...i do think it's easier to get good distribution if you do it before though.

renieri.net said...

Have you ever tasted a tuscan cotechino? Cause Italian do it better but Tuscan even much better! ;)

Jasonmolinari said...

renieri, i have not! Do you have a reicpe or some details?