Full Circle Cotechino at Primo

By

Caroline Hatchett
Liz Clayman
Melissa Kelly presents a slice of her cotechino on the 2015 ICC Main Stage
Melissa Kelly presents a slice of her cotechino on the 2015 ICC Main Stage

Melissa Kelly’s cotechino has humble beginnings and a spectacular finish. Step one: fill an orange bucket with scraps. “We have white, blue, and orange buckets—one for compost, one for chickens, and one for the pigs,” said Kelly, who presented her full-circle kitchen on the 2015 ICC Main Stage. Those buckets are conduits for moving energy from the top to the bottom of Primo's food chain. “Customers are first, then us for family meal. It moves down to my 85-year-old dishwasher. Then the pigs, chickens, and compost. Nothing gets thrown away.” Enter the swine. 

Kelly and her team raise 9 pigs each year for slaughter in late October. “They recycle food waste and come back to us as delicious meat. It’s hard not to raise pigs,” she says. Kelly sells fresh cuts at dinner service, hoards the lard, and cures the rest, making prosciutto-style hams, salumi, terrines, pickled ears, and her prized cotechino. (Only the blood gets discarded, courtesy of USDA slaughterhouse rules.)

Originating in Modena and traditionally served on New Year’s day with lentils, cotechino is essentially a sausage-stuffed pig’s leg. That sausage is distinctly made of boiled skin, meat, and winter spices, such as nutmeg and clove. After being filled, the leg is sewn shut and gently poached. To avoid tearing, Kelly seals hers in a vacuum bag and cooks it sous vide at 145°F. Next it’s chilled and thinly sliced to order. It’s not uncommon for chefs to bread and fry said slices, but Kelly’s kitchen takes it one glorious step further. She breads the whole damn leg, fries it in the pig’s own lard in a cast iron pan, heats it through in the oven, and slices the goodness for her guests—who, in turn, will help start the cycle all over again. If there are any non-pork products left on their plates. 

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