Whether in Sicily or Staten Island, old-school Italians agree that one classic pork dish is not getting its due. Braciole (singular for braciola) can be found on Italian menus worldwide, but contenne, or pork skin, braciole is a rarity indeed.
For those unfamiliar with delectable world of roulade, in Italian cuisine, braciole has come to refer to almost any dish featuring thinly sliced meat that has been filled (customarily with cheese and breadcrumbs), rolled, braised, and sliced into little meat pinwheels. Contenne braciole, however, celebrates pork skin as its singular, scrumptious centerpiece.
The most difficult part about making the southern Italian dish is tracking down a butcher who sells the necessary slabs of skin. The fortunate, however, will find that the thin, fatty flesh is easier to work with than other meats, such as the commonly used flank steak, which requires both a steady hand for slicing and often a strong one for pounding the meat into workable sheets. Instead, once cleaned and dried, the supple skin layer is a readymade meat sheet primed for herbs (traditionally parsley), cheese (pecorino romano or parmigiano reggiano, of course), and breadcrumbs, which all get rolled and tied like a swine-y, savory cinnamon roll. And though browning the bundles is encouraged, they can also be plopped directly into the ragù, where the rolls impart their porky flavor and fat.
When cooked, the rolled skin has a pleasantly gelatinous texture and a rich porcine flavor. But savvy nonnas know that slowly braising the bundles transforms an average Italian ragù into a mouthwateringly silky sauce. As the membrane melts, the fat disperses, offering an unctuous texture that sets the sauce apart from other versions of braciole. With pasta and pork-infused sauce as the first course and sliced braciole as the second, this is the right skin to have in the Sunday Supper game.
Need to Know
In New York City, some Italian-focused food tours include stops at restaurants serving contenne braciole, including this meat market tour on Arthur Avenue where you can also buy some souvenir pork skin.
Where to Try It
Zero Otto Nove15 W 21st St, New York, New York, 10010, United States
If you don't have your own nonna on hand, this pasta joint is said to still make the dish in house.
This place usually has contenne braciole available as well as pork skin.