On a recent trip to Germany, I was once again confronted with a puzzling set of food descriptions. The meat counter in the supermarket was full of wursts, saumangen, pork products and schnitzel. So I made it my mission to understand the various forms of the simply prepared schnitzel that is so popular in Eastern European homes.
The famous “wiener schnitzel” is a thin cutlet of veal coated in bread crumbs, sautéed in butter and garnished with lemon. It is literally a schnitzel in the style of Vienna and it’s a specialty of Austria. In Germany, if you order schnitzel in a restaurant it will be made of a thinly pounded cutlet of pork, breaded and either sautéed or deep fried. Legally, it has to be labeled “schnitzel nach wiener art” or “schnitzel von schwein.”
In the following recipes I have tried to adapt these traditional styles of cooking schnitzel to more modern tastes, reducing some of the fat while retaining the character of the dish.
Purchase 1 pound of thin veal cutlets. Pour 3/4 cup buttermilk into a shallow dish and 2 cups panko bread crumbs into a pie tin. Grind sea salt and black pepper over the cutlets to taste.
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon canola oil. As it heats, add three sprigs of fresh thyme and set the heat on medium high. Using tongs, dip each cutlet into the buttermilk and then into the panko crumbs. Immediately add it to the sauté pan and repeat with the other cutlets. Do not crowd the pan or the cutlets will not brown. Turn the cutlets as they brown, give them a squeeze of lemon and remove them to a warm plate.
Serve with boiled new potatoes, glazed carrots and a lemon wedge. Garnish with chopped parsley and the fried thyme sprigs.
Cut 1 pound of thin veal cutlets into 3-inch-square pieces. Set up a breading station with buttermilk and panko as in the above recipe. Season the cutlets with salt and pepper.
Separately, break 4 eggs into a shallow dish, being careful not to break the yolks. Heat 1 quart water in a shallow saucepan and add 1 teaspoon vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt. Rinse 1 head of Swiss chard and trim the leaves from the stems. Carefully slide the eggs into the simmering water and let them poach for about 4 minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon and holding them on a warm plate.
Skim the egg water of debris and add the Swiss chard. Let it cook for 1 minute and drain. Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon canola oil. Quickly sauté the cutlets in batches, without crowding, and remove.
After all cutlets are browned and removed, add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan along with 1 tablespoon capers, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
Assemble each plate by placing the cooked Swiss chard in the middle with cutlets on top. Put a poached egg on top of the cutlets and lay 2 strips of anchovy over the egg. Spoon some of the caper/ butter mixture over all. Repeat for all 4 plates and serve.
SCHNITZEL NACH WIENER ART
Place 1 pound of boneless pork cutlets between sheets of plastic film and pound them into thin cutlets with a mallet or frying pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
Set up a breading station as follows: Break 2 eggs into a shallow dish and add 2 tablespoons water, whisking them together. In a separate shallow dish add 2 cups plain bread crumbs. Dip the pork cutlets in the egg wash, then into the bread crumbs. Press the crumbs into the meat and shake off excess before refrigerating.
Make a fresh applesauce by peeling, coring and chopping 4 Mutsu apples. Place the chopped apples into a saucepan and add 1 cinnamon stick, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Add 1/2 cup riesling wine (or other dry white), cover and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking for another 5 minutes to evaporate liquid. Mash with a potato masher and cool.
Prepare German-style potato pancakes by shredding 3 Idaho baking potatoes. Place the shredded potatoes in a clean cook’s towel and squeeze out the moisture by twisting the bundle into a tight ball. Combine in a bowl 2 eggs, 1/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 2 teaspoons salt. Add the shredded potatoes to this mixture along with 1/2 cup chopped green onions. Add 1 teaspoon ground pepper and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
Place 2 sauté pans on the stove and heat. Add 1/4 cup canola oil to one pan and 2 tablespoons canola oil to the other. Sauté the pork schnitzel at medium heat until brown on both sides, about 10 minutes. Using a tablespoon, place spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the second sauté pan, cooking at medium heat until the pancakes are brown, also about 10 minutes. Cook in batches so as not to crowd the pork or the pancakes. Hold them in a warm oven until service time.
Assemble each dish by placing 2 potato pancakes on each plate with the pork schnitzel. Spoon applesauce on the side and serve.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years.