Cotechino, a speciality of the Emilia-Romagna region, is difficult to find across much of the United States. You'd be hard pressed to find this fresh pork sausage in much of New York, though it can be found at Eataly, where it has appeared on the menu of their rooftop beer garden.
But you can find it on Arthur Avenue. During the holiday season, precooked imported cotechino can be found at Casa della Mozzarella, Mike's Deli ($19.50 for 1.25 to 1.5 lb), and Teitel Brothers ($5.99/lb). But why bother when you can find get locally produced links at one of the neighborhood's revered butchers? Those looking for good fortune in 2013, though, may want to pick up a link or two before they disappear. Once the holidays pass, so too will the cotechino.
One of the sausage's defining characteristics, which also gives it its name, is the incorporation of rind (cotica) from the snout and jowl. Alongside the rind go shoulder and neck meat, salt, and spices such as black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves. Ratios are not strictly observed. In its homeland, cotechino is traditionally served with lentils, symbolic of money, on New Year's Day as an omen of good luck.
My introduction was less deliberate, an unwitting foray into Casa della Mozarella for prosciutto. You know how it goes: one cured meat leads to another. I was excited by promise of something new and elusive, but sadly the cotechino there is not produced in-house. The flavor was restrained, if unremarkable; muted much like the link's earthy hue. But prospects improve with just turn around the corner.
At Vincent's ($7.50/lb), you'll find a beautifully ruby red cotechino that is less rotund than others I have spotted Stateside. Marcella Hazan lamented that "what sausage-makers outside Italy produce is leaner, drier, and saltier than the Modenese archetype," but in the Bronx the home team wins. Imported cotechino must be precooked, dulling both the color and the flavor.
Here, the sausage is hung for two weeks. Once let loose, the sausage perfumes the room without overwhelming the senses. Its aroma hints at the underlying sweetness of pork, calling forth Calabria's sopressata, and was enough to get my dog* all kinds of excited—he's always been more of pizza crust and peanut butter kind of guy. This is cotechino we can get excited about.
* I've been looking for an excuse to include my dog Bogart in this column since its inception, and when he sprung for the cotechino, I knew my chance had arrived. Naturally, being the ruffian he is, he gave the link his absolute focus for the following 20 minutes, allowing me ample time to snap some shots.
What of the flavor? I have extolled the virtues of Calabria's sopresatta frequently in this column (and too often to remember in conversation) and while Vincent's cotechino does not quite compete it is a worthy contender. Some call it hearty and heavy, so I say this is all the better on a winter morning. The warm spices, nutmeg and cloves, are less weighty in this rendition; while the aroma suggests a heavy hand with the chili flakes, the flavor is rich and mild with an emphasis on fatty pork goodness. The texture is soft, not at like the tough skin of salami to which its often compared, and as tender as expected when cooked.
I have yet to find an adequate explanation for why cotechino is served on New Year's Day aside from traditional slaughter practices, but who are we to ask questions when dealing with such absurd levels of delicious-ness? One may wish, yes, that it were traditional to eat the dish every morning. But its scarcity will make your foggy-headed New Years Day all the more special. Just imagine that those lentils instead symbolize the many brain cells you sacrificed to the party gods! You'll be needing them at the office.
Vincent's Meat Market
2374 Arthur Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10458 (map) 718-295-9048