One Man’s Schnitzel…

…is another man’s Milanese. It’s all crumbs to me! And there’s the secret I’m about to share with you. The idea of the Wiener Schnitzel or Scaloppa Milanese is pretty straightforward; flatten, flour, egg-wash and crumb your meat and then shallow fry it in oil or better still animal fat. So far, so easy. But then why is it so often so disappointing you ask? It’s the crumb, dummy! In fact that’s not the whole truth. Like most simple recipes, it’s all in the details. What kind of meat, what amount of flour, how much salt , what type of frying fat and most importantly, what type of crumb!

Let’s talk about the meat.

The best and most traditional cut of meat to use is veal, both in the Viennese Schnitzel and the Cotoletta Milanese and it should really be a veal chop with plenty of fat on it. The idea is that the fat flattens out and and provides a great burst of flavour to an otherwise quite dry meat. That’s the idea. The reality is unfortunately often quite different and you end up with a truly dry piece of veal (or pork, or chicken). I have tried pork shoulder and even lean belly, but I have to say that my vote goes to ribeye steak. For two reasons: if you choose a nicely marbled one, you will get that burst of fat in almost every bite AND it is much easier to hammer flat than a resilient piece of pork. And of course it has the added advantage that I can cook it for our Muslim friends too.

So here it is before I took my trusty hammer to it. This is a thinnish steak, roughly 1.5cm of about 200g. Place the meat between two sheets of clingfilm and start hammering gently. DON’T wack the hell out of it, but go soft and steady and you will end up with this:

It’s about 5mm thick, which is more than double the traditional Schnitzel thickness, but works just fine for our beef. You will get a nice little bit of pink in the middle of your cooked Schnitzel and that’s really all we ask for. Now prepare three soup plates, trays or whatever you have to hand and sift (yes, do it!) plain local flour into one. You will need about half a tablespoon per steak, but of course it’s impossible to spread half a tablespoon thin enough, so you will have to waste some. The second tray hold our lightly whisked eggs, again one egg is more than enough for two steaks. The third tray has our wonderful breadcrumb mix!

Homemade Breadcrumb Mix

  • 60g Italian breadcrumbs (pan grattato)
  • 30g almond meal
  • 10g grated parmesan
  • 3g/1tsp fine sea salt
  • 0.5g/½ tsp black pepper

That’s enough to coat about 4 pieces of meat. Make sure to use good quality breadcrumbs and not those horrible orange coloured thins they try to flog in the supermarket. You can make them yourself, but you can also buy some Italian or French breadcrumbs. Grate your Parmesan fresh and for God’s sake don’t use the dried ready-made crap you can buy in a box, which smells like the toilet of an English pub in Benidorm after a long weekend and pretty much tastes like it too. Don’t worry about the cheese being a bit wet and in strands, rather than small bits. Once you add it to the breadcrumbs and mix it all about, the crumbs will dry out the cheese, absorb some of its fat and the whole thing will become nicely homogeneous. The addition of the ground almonds is, believe me, a stroke of genius, but then you know who you’re talking to… So don’t leave them out.

Before we start, I’d like to talk about salt and pepper. For a great flavour throughout the meat, you will want to season the steaks, the egg AND the breadcrumbs (as you can see in the ingredient list above). The steak needs a light sprinkling of salt on both sides, as well as good grind of black pepper. Add a small pinch of salt for each egg and leave the flour alone. I find that seasoning the flour doesn’t really work, as salt is so much heavier than flour and just drops to the bottom of the tray.

All we need to do now is fry the things. It is obviously best to coat the steaks last minute, but I find that they don’t suffer too much when done in advance and kept in the chiller. Don’t stack them up more than two by two, or the bottom ones will become soggy and keep a piece of parchment paper between them, cover the whole tray with cling film and you’ll be fine. When it’s a choice between spending the evening with your friends or in the kitchen breading steaks, I think the friends should win out over a tray of crumbs.

Fat! Traditionally, it’s clarified butter, which is a bit of a bummer to make, so open a can of ghee instead. Or buy some good duck or goose fat. Lard will do the trick too and when all else fails, go for good quality olive oil. Heat the fat in a pan just big enough to hold a steak or two. Don’t overheat the fat, or your crumbs will burn before they brown and before the meat is cooked. Even heat is important, so go medium high.

There’s a little trick I do; when all the steaks are fried, I quickly wipe down the pan, just to get rid of any crumbs that may have accumulated, add a big knob of butter to the hot pan and let it turn brown. I then pour this beurre noisette over the breaded steaks and serve them with a quarter lemon.

One last thing. Please don’t serve the Schnitzel (German plural is the same as the singular; ein Schnitzel, zwei Schnitzel) with tiny, cute lemon wedges no person is ever able to get any juice out of. You really do want to drench the Schnitzel in fresh lemon juice, so go invest in a whole lemon for every four people.

What do you serve with this? Healthy; a big salad (I’m thinking potato salad); not so healthy, chips (that’s French Fries to the Donald), catastrophically unhealthy; steamed potatoes with parsley in a lake of lard (with possibly some bacon on top). And a green salad to go with it.

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