Growing up, there were basically only two ways we ate Schnitzel; first was a thin veal cutlet fried in bread crumbs, served with a side of fried potatoes and vegetables. Second was what I would equate to Italian style which is veal parmigiana; thin veal cutlet fried in bread crumbs, covered in tomato sauce and cheese, served with a side of pasta. Doing research for this article, I found there was half a world of different styles all originating in Europe, Russia or Scandinavia. For the sake of my own sanity, and not to bore you all senseless, I'm only going to deal with three styles: Wiener Schnitzel and Jager Schnitzel (both from Germany) and Becki odrezak (Croatia, my ancestry).
Schnitzel is essentially made with a meat product such as veal, beef, pork or wild game (elk, deer, wild boar which will make all you hunters happy). The meat is sliced thin into cutlets, anywhere to 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch in thickness; then pounded out to 1/8 or 1/4 inch in thickness. Leave a little fat around the meat; during deep frying some of the fat will melt, keeping the meat moist and juicy; the rest will crisp up. In the United States, Country Fried Steak could be looked at as a form of Schnitzel; a cutlet of beef which is only slightly pounded out, but left thick, and fried with a coating of flour and/or bread crumbs (I like to do 2/3 plain bread crumbs, 1/3 cornmeal mix).
Pounding out the meat breaks up any connective tissues and fibers, so the finished product will be very, very tender. Use the flat side of a meat tenderizer as you want to flatten out the meat to almost double its original size, but not to the point of being able to read a newspaper through it, or shredding the meat itself. Tenderizing meat is great for getting out frustrations, but don't think of anything too maddening; you want to flatten out, not annihilate. First a basic recipe for making Schnitzel which works for whichever meat you choose to use, then the different styles you can play with.
1 lb. tenderloin of meat (pork, veal, beef or wild game)
1 tsp. each salt and ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. paprika
2 eggs plus 2 Tbsp. water, beaten together
3 cups plain, dried bread crumbs (fine ground)
Oil for frying (I recommend peanut oil, canola if not available)
Cut the tenderloin into 1/4 inch slices (about 10-12 slices), place between 2 sheets of clear plastic wrap and pound out to 1/8 inch thickness. Mix together the salt, black pepper and paprika; season both sides of the meat slices.
|Pounded out Pork Cutlets.|
Fill a large skillet with 1 and 1/2 inches of oil and set on medium-high heat. Dip the meat slices into the egg/water mixture, press into the bread crumbs (both sides) and shake off any excess. When oil is ready (sizzles when drops of cold water are sprinkled over the oil), put 3 of the prepared slices into the skillet. It takes only 2 minutes on each side to fry them, so keep an eye on them; remove to paper towels to drain any excess oil.
Note: using unseasoned bread crumbs will allow the seasoning placed previously on the meat to "pop" when eating it.
Time to country hop and eat like locals; I'm going to Croatia first, since that is the land of my ancestry. Remember when I said above that I ate Schnitzel with fried potatoes; since the meat was being deep fried; throwing some potatoes into that oil to make a side dish was the norm. That’s basically it, fried meat with fried potatoes; yes, I’m a meat and potatoes lady!
Now when you think of Schnitzel from Germany, two versions come to mind. The first is the popularly known Wiener Schnitzel; a fried veal cutlet with a sunny side egg on top. A teaspoon of melted butter in an eight inch skillet over medium-high heat; carefully drop in your raw egg as to not break the yoke; season with a dash of salt and pepper. Use a spatula to move around the white and clear liquids of the egg, so they will cook thoroughly around the yoke. Carefully place it over the cutlet; when you cut into that yoke and down into the cutlet, the yoke will become a rich sauce for the fried meat.
The second version is Jager Schnitzel, or "Hunter's Schnitzel", which is done up normally with pork, served with a rich, creamy mushroom sauce; the name "Hunter's" alludes to the hunting of wild game such as boar.
Creamy Mushroom Sauce
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 and 1/2 cups beef stock
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup sour cream
In a deep 10 inch skillet, heat oil on medium heat, sauté’ mushrooms for 5 minutes; add beef stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep from boiling. Reduce heat to low; whisk in cornstarch and sour cream. Continue to whisk until sauce thickens; serve over fried cutlets.
Makes about 1 and 1/2 cups.
Whether you try out any of these Schnitzel recipes, or decide to visit the recipes of other countries, remember to enjoy the adventure!