Schnitzel 101

Schnitzel is wiener schnitzel, a popular German dish. The name simply means Vienna cutlet. Classically it is a veal cutlet, breaded al' anglaise and pan fried until golden brown, then topped with a particular garnish of chopped boiled egg, anchovy, capers and lemon.

When I prepare schnitzel, I use chicken breast or pork shoulder instead of veal, due to cost and ethical considerations. Also I don't worry about the classic garnish.

Medium difficulty. You'll need to know the basics of frying.

You will need:

Cooking schnitzel requires some distinct steps of preparation:

Prepping the chicken breast

You need a thin cutlet of boneless, skinless chicken breast for this dish. The simplest way to achieve that is lay the chicken breast flat on a cutting board, and with a sharp chef's knife held at 45° slice off cutlets of about a 1⁄4" thick. You can also cut the breast in half, creating two pieces of half the thickness, and pound them thinner. Whatever your choice, the meat for schnitzel should be thin.

Breading

The breading is al' anglaise; this is an old french term for what's more often called "standard breading procedure". You will need five dishes on your counter: Plates, pie pans, bowls will all work:

  1. Empty for your chicken breast slices.
  2. Plain flour in the second dish.
  3. An egg well beaten with a small amount of water in a third dish.
  4. Bread crumbs in the fourth dish. (Soft -fresh- bread crumbs are traditional for schnitzel but without a food processor are a little annoying to produce; dry crumbs from the store are okay).
  5. Empty for your breaded cutlets.

Just before breading, season the chicken with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Mix 'em up.

With one slice at a time, coat in flour and pat off all excess. Dip in egg wash, and allow all excess to drip off. Finally, gently but thoroughly coat in bread crumbs, permitting any excess to return to the dish. (Why the bold print? Because for a good coating, you don't want any thick, lumpy or pasty wads of crumbs, egg and flour adhering to your chicken). Once breaded arrange the cutlets on the plate. It's best not to stack them.

When your cutlets are breaded, start heating your pan. As oil heats, wash your hands and clean your station.

Frying

SAFETY TIP: Never add water to an oil fire. If oil should ignite, cover at once with lid and move pan off the heat. No lid? Use a cookie sheet or, if need be, baking soda. Stay calm, you've got time to act properly. Just DON'T ADD WATER.

Schnitzel should be pan fried, which is to say cooked in hot oil in a skillet, immersed to at least half it's own thickness in the fat. Heat a large, heavy skillet or electric skillet with about 1⁄4" of oil to completely cover the bottom. You want the oil hot enough for frying - about 360°, or just over medium heat. Drop a tiny dusting of flour in the oil. If it just floats, the oil isn't hot enough. If it "dances" the oil is ready.

Fry just enough schnitzels so you don't crowd the pan. It will take a minute or two for the bottom to turn golden brown; the thinner the cutlets, the faster they will cook. Using two spatulas, or a spatula and a fork, carefully turn each schnitzel in the hot oil. Let both sides get brown. Remove cooked schnitzels to a plate with paper towels, and set in a warm (150°) oven.

You may need to replenish your oil as you proceed if you are cooking a large batch.

Dress with a squeeze of lemon juice just before serving. If desired, garnish with a slice of lemon and a sprig of parsley.

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