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

Danielle Oteri

by Danielle Oteri on May 17, 2012

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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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Sal Sanfilippo January 20, 2013 at 12:58 am

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

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Larry May 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm

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!

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Joe LaRocca May 25, 2013 at 12:59 pm

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

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Ann DeGregorio September 14, 2013 at 4:50 pm

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

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Gina L December 22, 2013 at 10:52 am

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.

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jess December 28, 2013 at 1:10 pm

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!

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Michael April 19, 2014 at 8:13 pm

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 ;-)

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Elisa Williams May 21, 2014 at 7:03 pm

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…

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John A July 3, 2014 at 12:46 am

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

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Ree August 4, 2014 at 4:28 am

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!

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