The Schnitzel Story

Did you know? True Wiener Schnitzel calls for veal

Schnitzel, a dish so quintessentially Austrian that The Sound of Music’s Maria listed it as one of her famed favourite things, has a history more complex than its rustic appearance would suggest.

The practice of tenderizing and breading meat can be traced all the way back to the Middle Ages and beyond, but the traditional Viennese Wiener Schnitzel is said to have been introduced to Austria by Field Marshal Radetzky, who came across “Cotoletta alla Milanese” during his military campaigns in Italy and attempted to have the dish replicated upon his return home. Whether or not the legend is true is up for debate, but there is no doubt that Schnitzel as we know it today is Austrian through and through. Not only is it one of the country’s national dishes, but there are even laws in place that dictate its proper preparation and categorization.

Like any classic, there is an elegance to the simplicity of the recipe: cuts of tender meat are pounded thin, coated in a mixture of egg, flour, and breadcrumbs, then fried until golden in butter and oil. Both pork and chicken cutlets have been used over the years to create variations of the original, but true Wiener Schnitzel calls for veal, which lends a depth of flavour that the other meats can’t match.

Toronto-based chef and author Jo Lusted offers some helpful advice on how to prepare the perfect, crispy Wiener Schnitzel. The key, she says, is to “pound the veal to an even thickness of 1/8 to 1/16-inch thin. Even thickness allows for consistent, even cooking of the whole schnitzel. Uneven thickness will have the thinner sections slightly overcooked by the time the thicker part is cooked through.”

After pounding the veal thin, each slice should be dredged in flour, dipped in the beaten eggs, and then coated with breadcrumbs. Chef Jo recommends shaking off any excess flour or breadcrumbs before frying to ensure an even coating and to help keep the oil clean for the next batch.

When ready to fry, heat the oil and butter to a medium high temperature and cook the veal in small batches. This will help the oil remain at a constant temperature and give you a perfect, crispy breading. Remember to always lay the meat away from your body as you place it into the pan in order to prevent any hot oil from splashing in your direction. Spoon oil over the top of the veal or gently swirl the pan while cooking to trap air in the crust and make it super crispy.

Fry each cutlet until the coating turns golden brown, then carefully dab the Schnitzel with paper towel to remove any excess oil. Arrange the pieces on a plate and garnish with a wedge of lemon. In keeping with the Wiener Schnitzel’s simple aesthetic, traditional sides include light cucumber or potato salads.

Looking for a new twist on this classic dish? The Schnitzel is as adaptable as it is timeless. Smother your Schnitzel in a burgundy- or creamy-mushroom sauce and you’ve got Jäger Schnitzel. Top it with a fried egg, onions, and capers to create Schnitzel Holstein. Season tomato sauce with paprika and red peppers, pour it over your crispy cutlets, and voilà: Paprika Schnitzel. The options are limitless, so don’t be afraid to play around with sauces and sides!

Whether you’re a purist who prefers the simplicity of the traditional Wiener variety or a culinary improviser eager to create something new, you can’t go wrong with a good Schnitzel. Guten appetit!

Sources:
“Wiener Schnitzel Recipe.” Austria.info. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
“Wiener Schnitzel.” Germanfoodguide.com. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.