Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pig Skin

When butchers break down a side of pork, they are after the several lean cuts of meat, the bones that can be used in stock or sold as dog treats, and the large pile of trim that can be ground into sausage meat. The only parts that typically go to waste are the head, the glands (particularly prevalent in the jowls, but also in the hind legs), and the skin.

Progressive (or retrogressive?) eaters don't have a problem with pig head, and the glands represent a very small amount of waste, maybe 100g on a side of pork. That leaves the skin. While it can be put into a broth or cassoulet, there happens to be a much more dignified use.

I recently came across a recipe for cotechino, a common boiling-sausage from Emilia-Romagna that is traditionally made with a significant amount of pork skin ("cotica" is Italian for "skin"). The following process is based on the cotechino recipe in Paul Bertolli's Cooking by Hand.

1: Cut the sheets of skin into manageable squares. The pale squares below are fresh belly skin from my last batch of pancetta. The darker squares are belly skin that was cut from bacon immediately after smoking.

The sheets of skin, some fresh, some smoked, cut into manageable squares
2: Simmer the skin until tender, about one hour, skimming away any greyish foam that develops.

Boiling the skin
3: Cut away the fat on the back of the pieces of skin. Discard the fat. Chill the skin thoroughly.

Defatting the skin with a paring knife

4: Grind the skin through a small die.

Grinding the cooked, chilled skin
5. Dice the meat and fat, then mix with the salt and spices (in this case: dried hot peppers, cinnamon, coriander, clove, and black pepper) and the ground skin. Chill the mixture thoroughly.

The spices for the skin sausage, or cotechino: dried hot peppers, cinnaom, coriander, clove, and black pepper
The mixture of pork shoulder, fat, and cooked, ground, skin
6: Grind the mixture through a coarse plate.

Grinding the meat, fat, and cooked, ground skin
7: Quenelle test: fry a bit of the forcemeat to check the seasoning. (Optional step: eat quenelle with fried egg, mushrooms, and obscenely large piece of toast.)

Our quenelle test: a small sausage patty and a fried egg both resting on an enormous piece of toast
8: Stuff the forcemeat into hog middles. You can see some air pockets in the casing below, especially on the bottom curve. Pop those bubbles with a pin.

Stuffing the skin sausage, or cotechino
10: Hang sausages on a dowel to dry out the surfaces.

Hanging the sausage on a broom handle to dry the surfaces


  1. Wow am I interested to hear how THESE turn out. We have to special request the head and skin be left on pigs when slaughtered, otherwise it comes off and is garbaged. Some places won't even leave the skin on if asked because they don't have the gear to scrape it. Crazy.

  2. Then do you fry the sausages, or smoke them... or dry cure them? Interesting use of skin. It must be for the texture in the sausage. Very interesting.

  3. Ok I have to say that creeps me out but the finished product looks just like a breakfast sausage. You never told us how the quennelle test tasted. It definitely looked good.