Don’t Toss the Pig Skin! Use It For Braciole.

If there is anything left to contribute to the persistent food trend of nose-to-tail eating, first popularized by British chef Fergus Henderson and then expanded on by countless chefs, writers, and restaurateurs, it is cotenna, or pig skin, from the traditional Southern Italian red sauce.

A huge pot of meatballs and sausages simmering in an inferno of tomatoes, garlic and herbs is the memory that trumps all others in the Italian-American experience. Braciole, rolled-up slices of thinly cut beef layered is also a stock character of Sunday sauce, whether it be the Neapolitan version layered with cheese and parsley, or Sicilian braciole, which are stuffed with raisins. But braciole made from pig skin are hard to come by, despite the luxurious velvety texture they add to tomato sauce.

pork skin braciole
Those with memories of their Italian grandparents rolling up pig skin braciole likely won’t recognize the cotenna, the proper Italian word for a pig skin or rind. Near Naples and Salerno the local accent pronounces it cotica, cutica or coodica. In Sicily it’s called agodina. Just like beef braciole, it is layered with cheese, chopped parsley, rolled up and secured with long toothpicks or butcher’s twine. The cotenne should be browned first in a hot pan with a little bit of olive oil, then left to braise in tomato sauce alongside other meats for at least two hours.

This very traditional dish, rich with the culinary ancestry of Southern Italy, has fallen far out of favor in contemporary Italian cooking. Two of the very best writers on Italian-American food, Michele Scicolone and Lidia Bastianich, have stripped cotenne out of their recipes for traditional Sunday ragus. For his, cookbook author Arthur Schwartz adds pork shoulder with some of the skin still on to create the “velvety richness.”

In the Naples episode of the foodie travelogue No Reservations, host Anthony Bourdain went in search of the “red sauce trail,” starting in New York and ending in the kitchen of a typical Neapolitan nonna and her Sunday ragu. I hoped that Bourdain, an unabashed, nearly rabid pork-ophile, might stumble upon cutica in Nonna’s pot, but these days, the more common Neapolitan version of ragu uses marbled beef for fat content.

Pork rinds have been made chic and trotters and snouts are found in some of the world’s best restaurants. So will cotenne have their moment? Admittedly, the texture might be hard to overcome. Crispy skin on the outside of roasted pork tastes almost like a piece of salty candy, but a braised pork skin braciole leaves no illusion that it is anything other than skin.

rolled pig skin
The best and possibly only restaurant to try it is in New York at Zero, Otto, Nove. Chef Roberto Paciullo, a Salerno native, absolutely includes cutica in his ragu Salernitano. And until April Bloomfield discovers and elevates cutica, you can always try it at home.

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Comments

  1. Jim says

    We are going to Sicily next month and I would love to try and find this at a restaurant. It sounds great. Also, I purchase a half a pig every year from a friend who raises them. I should get the skin and try this myself.

  2. says

    The idea of nose-to-tail eating has been one of the best kept secrets within Italian families. From snapping the ear off of a pig that has been roasted… to capozelle… you learned not to waste anything! Even if it is just used for stock. I have to admit though, that I haven’t tried braciole this way. Maybe soon…

  3. says

    Definitely do, Mike. Just one cutica braciole in the sauce will provide all the texture you need. Then slice it thinly so everyone at the table can have one succulent bite. Delicious.

  4. says

    I have a stash of cutica sausage, given to me by one of my gfriends, made by a butcher in the north end (Boston) where I grew up. So the cutica is ground up in the sausage with the pork meat. NOTHING makes the gravy taste better than a cutica bracciole and your recipe is exactly how I grew up making it. My nonni and nonno on my fathers side were from Naples .My mothers side from Sicily. Sadly you are correct in saying nobody will eat this anymore. We used to fight over it :)

  5. says

    Georgeann, cutica sausages are brilliant! I’ve never seen them before. I’ll be in Boston in September and I will absolutely look for these.

  6. Clarissa Thomas says

    Hi Danielle,
    This is an old thread, so I don’t know if you are still monitoring it or not. But anyway, I followed your recipe for the pig skin braciole and added a couple of them to a batch of pork shoulder ragu that I made for dinner tonight. Wow! My husband and I fought over them. They cooked for about 4 hours in my ragu, and really added something special as a garnish. I’m picking up a pork side next week, and always get everything back including the head, skin, feet, etc. I’ve been looking for a new way to use the skin, and this is it! Thanks for a great recipe and a new obsession! Clarissa

  7. says

    That’s great!! So glad you enjoyed them. Truly, nothing else makes a red sauce quite so velvety and rich. Thanks so much for reporting back. It totally made my day!

  8. Lorraine says

    Thank you for printing this recipe with the details — My grandfather was from a province outside of Salerlno and this is just how I remember it.
    I never knew the correct way to spell the word — I just had a childhood memory of it but your additional info connected with the pronounciation.
    Thank you

  9. E. j. says

    I grew up in New York, in an Italian family. Mother made it often in the winter months. My whole family loved it. As I got older, and lived on my own, I learned to cook it myself. Most friends won’t even try it. Friends who ate it and enjoyed it years ago, not knowing what it was, think its disgusting. When told they ate and enjoyed it, they disbelieve it. It is difficult to find it in Florida, where I now live. I have to special order it. The recipe you wrote is almost exactly like I make it except I add chopped garlic. It is my favorite food.

  10. Sal Sanfilippo says

    My family is from Porticello, Sicily. We always had rolled pork skin in our sauce. My mother would get it real thin,mix hard boiled eggs, bread crumbs,salt,pepper, garlic,
    Parsley and grated parmagiano and spread the mixture thinly on the cotenne,roll it
    Tightly,tie it with string and add them to the sauce.. Greatest taste on earth.try it.
    Sal

  11. Larry says

    There may only be a few places left in NYC (probably Bloomberg has
    outlawed pork skin) to get this smashing Napoletan’ dish, but I remember twenty-five years ago there was a great little place in Lawrence on L.I. called the Last Chance. Every once in a while pork skin braciole was made for lunch. hey, this
    place was populated by everyone who was anyone. Just like Guys & Dolls. What
    great memories!

  12. Joe LaRocca says

    A friend recently had cotenna at an Italian restaurant named Tremonte in Delray Beach Florida, After my mouth stopped watering, I went to a hispanic market to buy the pork skins as the Italian butcher told me they no longer get requests. I’m now making what I label as my “going to the mattresses sauce” ( thank you Mario Puzo) In any event, I’m about to make mom’s braciole and serve it to the few remaining friends who might begin to understand. It has hard boiled eggs,parsley, a few raisons, pin nuts, bread crumbs, and hard loccatelli. Yum!!!
    Salute
    Joe LaRocca
    PS mom was Polish but could outlook any Sicilian on the planet

  13. Ann DeGregorio says

    Does any one have a recipe for cotenna with greens? My mother made the best
    unfortunately I don’t remember how she made it. Would appreciate any input.

    Nothing like Italian food. Yay! Ann DE

  14. Gina L says

    Sitting on my stove right now is a simmering pot of tomatoes with cotenne, pork hocks and short ribs. I will add the meatballs,sausage and braciole in about an hour.

    My grandmother, from a tiny peasant town in Sicily, pronounced it “agoodena”. Also, her braciole always had hard boild eggs.

  15. jess says

    I am just reeling over here! My mom, neapolitan, told me about growing up with “agodena.” I have been causally searching for her childhood dish for a while, spelling it phonetically. I am so glad I found this, and it seems almost exactly as she described it. Her mom made one large one for the gravy, and what my mom loved most was how the soft, braised outside enveloped a more toothesome, chewy, sticky center. This dish, and this post, has single-handedly renewed a passion for Sunday gravy. Thanks!

  16. Michael says

    Stuffed with chopped garlic, parsley, grated cheese and basil, tied, and put right into the gravy to cook for 4 or 5 hours on low. I cut the skin off the pork shoulder when I buy them, then scrape all the fat off, then freeze the skin until I make it. Holiday treat 😉

  17. Elisa Williams says

    So glad that I found this recipe, I remember it from my childhood. My family came from Caserta (mother) San Evangelista (father), I’m not sure if this recipe came with my mother or if she picked it up in the United States. At any rate, What a great tasting Sauce and nice addition to Sunday Dinner…

  18. John A says

    Great stuff. Im Sicilian 64 yrs old, and I still make it.
    Its a heavy sauce with the meatballs, sausage, and spare ribs.
    I only make it 3 or 4 times during the winter. Summertime calls for lighter sauces, like marinara, egg plant, stuffed peppers, red clam/seafood.
    Just moved to Florida. Not many more times will the godina grace my plate. Gotta get used to the Golden Corral

  19. Ree says

    Delighted to see this article. My father was born and raised in Maddaloni, near Naples, and my mom used to make the rolled, stuffed pork skins. I absolutely love them! But I live in the South now (born and raised in New Jersey), and pork skins here are all fried. Can’t find good, clean skins anywhere, but I keep searching. People look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about stiffed pork skins simmered in sauce!

    My mom used a bread stuffing with raisins. Sooooo delicious!

  20. Denielle Lucia Theresa Nero says

    My gram used to call it Goldena…. has anyone ever heard that term???