Cotechino – Buon Anno!

homemade Cotechino sausageI think this last post of 2015 pretty much sums up my excellent sausage-making year and kicks off the next in an awesome style. Cotechino and lentils is a traditional Italian New Year’s dish served for good luck, much like black-eyed peas here in the US. The lentils are supposed to represent coins, no idea what the large round sausage is supposed to be. Maybe a bigger coin? Regardless of whether or not it brings good fortune, cotechino is a deliciously rich sausage and an excellent New Year’s food tradition. Best part is, I now know how to make them.

Cotechino is a very, very, very rich sausage mostly due to the fact there is a good amount of fat inside as well as pork skin, ‘cotiche,’ which gives the sausage its name. But I think it’s the long and low poaching process which further softens the tough bits of skin suspended in the sausage and slowly melts the fat which makes the cotechino so decadent. So much flavor!

For me this was a very different kind of sausage to make and thus a good challenge. Larger hog middles are used as the casings and would require stuffing by hand since I don’t have a stuffer tube that big. Not too difficult. The delicate part was figuring out how to not stuff the casings too tightly. When you’re making sausages for poaching, like cotechino, you need to be aware the sausage will expand when cooking (more the casings shrinking during the cooking I think). So if you stuff it too tight, you’ll end up with a burst sausage in water. Bad luck for your good luck.

Another potentially tricky aspect of making cotechino is the pork skin ingredient. It’s very tough. And that means it is very difficult to grind up raw. So you need to soften it by cooking first. Now, if you’re like me and make your own bacon you already have some pre-cooked skin in the form of the bacon rind. No soaking or cooking needed. Knowing I would be making cotechino for New Year’s I planned ahead and saved all the ones from the past few times I made bacon. A 5 lb slab will yield about ½ a pound of already cooked pig skin. If you haven’t been saving your bacon rinds (why not? they’re great for flavoring soups) then you’ll have to cook some skin. Just part of the process. Grinding the cooked bacon rind wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, in fact my grinder did it pretty easily.

As far as seasonings go I upped the amounts from what I was finding in my recipe research. A lot of the spices were in ½ and ¼ teaspoon measures. For 5 pounds of sausage!?!?!? Nutmeg is strong but not that strong. Anyway, the levels below make for a very flavorful sausage. I think the salt level needs some further adjustment though. I knocked it back some but feel it could be reduced a few more grams. I also wonder if Kosher salt instead of sea salt would make a difference. This could be the reason many recipes call for soaking the cotechino for at least 4 hours if not overnight to draw out some saltiness.

That said, well you know what I’m going to say…it turned out great. I had my doubts but when Cheryl got home and eagerly devoured the samples I gave her I knew I nailed it. She wasn’t even concerned about the saltiness. And if that wasn’t enough I also received accolades from my friend Max who is from Parma. He stopped by and  tasted some…then proceeded to leave with not one, but two of my homemade cotechino.

Definitely make this (or another sausage if you don’t have cotechino) with lentils, even the Flavor Bible says lentils and sausage are a top combination. Here, the richness of the cotechino is balanced by the earthy lentils and if you really want to add more balance throw in something sweet like I did with sautéed caramelized parsnips. Really good.

Buon Anno! Happy New Year! See you in 2016!

Cotechino (adapted from Ruhlman’s Salumi)

  • 2 ½ lbs pork shoulder, cubed
  • 1 ½ lbs pork skin (bacon rind), cooked and cut into strips/small squares
  • 1 lb fat back, cubed
  • 50 grams sea salt
  • 1 tsp curing salt #1
  • 3 Tbs ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground clove
  • 5 ground dried bay leaves
  • ¼ Tbs ground nutmeg
  • 1 Tbs ground mace
  • ¼ Tbs ground allspice
  • 3 Tbs minced garlic
  • ½ C dry white wine (or red) chilled
  • 2 hog middles, 18 inches

If you are using uncooked pork skin you need to cook it. Cover the skin with water in large pot and simmer for an hour. This will soften the really really tough skin. Test your grinder to make sure it won’t have a problem. If it’s not grinding all that great, partially freeze the cooked skin and then grind. Should be easier.

If using cooked bacon rind (like I did) cut it into strips and small squares. Should be fine to grind as is.

Combine and mix the pork, fat back, and bacon rind/skin, salt, Curing Salt #1, black pepper, cloves, bay leaves, nutmeg, mace, allspice, and garlic. Chill until ready to grind or set in refrigerator and chill overnight.

Run water through the hog middles and let soak in a small bowl of water for 30 minutes or until you’re ready to stuff them.

Using the medium holed grind plate, grind the seasoned pork/fat/skin mixture into a mixing bowl set in ice.

Pour in the wine and mix thoroughly.

Drain the casings and squeeze out any excess water. Tie one end of a casing with a bubble knot. With your hands or a large spoon, stuff half of the sausage mixture into the casing. Make sure to keep the casing ‘loose’ and do not overstuff. You don’t want it stretched too much because the cotechino will expand when cooked and if it is too tight the casing will burst (trust me, I did it with some haggis a few years ago). Squeeze the casing in the middle making two separate sausages. Make two bubble knots in the middle and one on the open end. Cut between the two bubble knots in the middle. Repeat with the remaining sausage and casing. You should now have 4 cotechino weighing about 1 ¼ lbs each.

To cook your cotechino: soak in cold water for at least 4 hours, though I am told you can soak it overnight as well. When ready to cook place the cotechino prick the casing all over with a sterile needle or sausage pricker. Place it in a large pot and cover with water. Bring the water to around 180°F and poach the sausage for 2 hours. DO NOT BOIL. Remove and slice the cotechino into rounds. Serve with braised lentils for good luck!

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