Simple variations on a classic schnitzel

April 3, 2013 

There is something wonderful about taking a piece of pork, veal or even chicken, pounding it thin and then sautéing it quickly.

The result is a marvel when done properly. Expect a light crunchy crust and a tender middle. It is wonderful served with nothing but a hint of butter and a spritz of fresh lemon juice but is just as grand with more complicated sauces and stuffings.

The Germans and Austrians have created an industry with this recipe and call its most basic form Wiener schnitzel. They dip their schnitzel in an egg wash and then toss in bread crumbs and so produce something much more substantial.

A cookbook could be filled with their variations on the theme, but loving praise must go to the Jagerschnitzel, or hunter's schnitzel as it is served with mushrooms a hunter might scavenge in the forest.

Other versions include using a fried egg as a topping; another is lovingly garnished with a cream sauce or a sauce espagnole (brown sauce). An all-time favorite is paprika schnitzel, which calls for a cream sauce that is made zesty with the red seasoning made from dried peppers, which we often associated with Hungary.

To the Italians it is scaloppini, a scallop being a thin slice of meat, most often veal but chicken is common as well. The Italians like to serve it with mushrooms as the Germans do and call it scaloppine ai funghi, but they also top it with tomatoes and capers or with a simple mustard topping, just a scattering of herbs or even grapefruit.

The French of course cannot be left out and to them it is the escalope. It is the same thin piece of meat, sometimes pounded thin and cooked perhaps in clarified butter. To make Escalopes a la Mandelieu Cognac is added along with Gruyere cheese and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Add artichokes, truffles, paprika and a few other good things to the recipe and you get Escalopes Casimir.

Perhaps the gold medal of this culinary theme should go to the Swiss inspired cordon bleu, which in French means blue ribbon. This is a thin slice of meat, veal, pork or chicken that is lovingly stuffed with ham and cheese, breaded and sautéed or baked until crispy. When you cut into this glory and the cheese melts out and the salty aroma of the ham finds you, it will be a culinary moment to savor. A cordon bleu can be served with just a bit of lemon or with a cream sauce.

BASIC SCHNITZEL

This recipe calls for the much less expensive use of thin sliced pork instead of veal.

1 thin slice boneless pork chop or tenderloin per person

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

Using a meat mallet gently pound the meat to flatten. Work one side at a time, flip and work the meat out like you would to spread out pizza dough. Keep turning the meat over and pounding until you get it as thin as you can without tearing. Pour the milk in a wide bowl, add the egg and

season aggressively. Place the thin slices of meat in the egg wash and, if you have the time, allow them to rest there for up to one hour. Pour the panko bread crumbs in a wide bowl and place on a large sheet of newspaper (this will save you time cleaning up). Shake excess egg wash off and dip in the panko to cover thoroughly; shake off excess. Sauté one at a time in a sauce pan over medium heat until golden brown; about 3-4 minutes to a side.

CORDON BLEU

This dish is classically made with veal and involves sandwiching ham and cheese between two very thin pieces of veal. The edges of the sandwich are pounded to seal, it is dipped in seasoned flour, then an egg wash and finally in bread crumbs. It is sautéed until golden brown and is delicious beyond description. The same recipe can be made with pork, chicken, turkey or even a firm fish, like lemon fish.

But to many people the technique is too trying and so some ingenious soul made cordon bleu by rolling the ham and cheese inside chicken and baking it to make it more healthy and technically less challenging. Try it any way you like it.

1 chicken boneless chicken thigh per person

2 slices gruyere cheese each

1 slice ham each (or smoked turkey)

1 egg

2-3 tablespoons water

1 cup panko bread crumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

1-2 pinches Italian seasoning or Herbs de Province

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pound the chicken to about1/4 of an inch thickness and season with salt and pepper. Add the ham and cheese on top of the chicken and then roll up and secure with a toothpick. Add the water to the eggs and whisk. Roll the chicken in the egg wash and then in the bread crumbs. Season with the dried herbs and place the rolls on an oiled baking dish or hotel pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the chicken is done but not dried out. If you prefer to sauté the cordon bleu it takes about 20 minutes to cook, 5 minutes on a side until brown. This dish can be enhanced by topping with additional cheese and returning to the oven to melt before serving or by serving it with a basic cream sauce, hollandaise or sauce espagnole. Fresh asparagus also makes a wonderful topping especially if you use the hollandaise.

SCHNITZEL AND SHRIMP

1 piece boneless chicken or boneless pork per person

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

3-4 shrimp per person

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic finely diced

2 pinches black pepper

1/4 cup cream per person

Proceed with the first six ingredients as described in the basic schnitzel recipe. Remove the schnitzels and keep warm by covering with foil or placing in a warm oven. Season the shrimp and quickly sauté in the same pan in which the schnitzel was cooked. Remove and set aside, add the onion and cook for 4-5 minutes, add the garlic and cook 1 minute more, add the cream and cook over medium high heat to reduce, this will also deglaze the pan. Taste the sauce and season as necessary. When it has reached the thickness you like, plate the schnitzel, top with the shrimp and garnish with the cream sauce.

As a healthy option leave out the cream sauce.

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