Wiener Schnitzel, Austria’s national dish.
Photo © Cokemomo | 123rf.
Wiener Schnitzel (pronouced VEE-ner not WEE-ner) is the national dish of Austria and a standard of Continental cuisine. In The Sound Of Music, Maria sang that Schnitzel with noodles was “one of my favorite things.” The name means Viennese [-style] scallops, referring to the scallops of veal (der Schnitz means a slice or a cut).
Wiener Schnitzel is a thin, breaded, fried veal cutlet fried served with a slice of lemon, traditionally served with a simple green salad or cucumbers plus German potato salad or boiled parsley potatoes. Lingonberry jam can be served as a condiment (you can buy it at better food stores, Ikea or online).
In Austria the term is protected by law; “Wiener Schnitzel” assures you of a veal cutlet. Since veal is pricey, a less expensive Austrian alternative uses pork (Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein). It can also be made with beef, chicken, mutton, pork, turkey, boar and reindeer—any meat that can be cut into thin slices. Just call it Chicken Schnitzel instead of Wiener Schnitzel.
While Wiener Schnitzel itself is out of fashion in the U.S., its spirit lives on in the American dish, Chicken-Fried Steak, a similar recipe made with beef. It was created in the Texas Hill Country by German immigrants, who found themselves with plenty of available beef. There’s more about Chicken-Fried Steak below.
And a recipe for authentic Wiener Schnitzel is also below. But first:
THE HISTORY OF WIENER SCHNITZEL
According to legend, Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, an Austrian general, brought the recipe from Italy to Vienna in 1857. But this story was invented, like George Washington and the cherry tree. Here’s what we know from the historical record:
A recipe for thinly sliced meat, breaded and fried, appears in the only remaining ancient Roman cookbook, published in the 4th or 5th century by “Apicus*.”
In the Middle Ages, breaded, fried veal was a very popular dish in both Northern Italy and what is now Austria.
Cotoletta Milanese, a bone-in veal chop that is breaded and fried, dates to a banquet held by the Hapsburg rulers of what is now Italy in 1134.
Before Wiener Schnitzel there was another popular Viennese dish, Backhendl: thin chicken breast slices, breaded and deep fried. It was first mentioned in a cookbook from 1719. [Source]
The term “Wiener Schnitzel”” dates to at least 1862. [Source]
Far from being a German dish, Germans across Austria’s northern border frequently refer to Austrians as Schnitzelfressers (Schnitzel munchers).
CHICKEN-FRIED STEAK or COUNTRY FRIED STEAK
A Southern specialty, Chicken-Fried Steak is the American version of Wiener Schnitzel; but instead of a tenderized veal cutlet, a tenderized cut of beef (a cube steak) is coated with seasoned flour and pan fried. It gets its name from its resemblance to fried chicken.
In a redundant twist, a dish called Chicken-Fried Chicken pounds, breads, and pan fries a chicken cutlet. This preparation is distinctively different from regular fried chicken, which breads bone-in chicken parts and deep-fries them.
*The book is thought to have been compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century C.E. and given the title De Re Coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”). The name Apicius had long been associated with an excessively refined love of food, exemplified by Marcus Gavius Apicius, a Roman gourmet who lived sometime in the 1st century C.E. The author of the book is one Caelius Apicius; however, no person by this name otherwise exists in the historical record. The book was no doubt compiled by a person or persons who wished to remain anonymous. [Source]
RECIPE: WIENER SCHNITZEL
While home cooks tend to pan fry Wiener Schnitzel, professional chefs will deep-fry it, as in the recipe below. However, feel free to pan fry.
This recipe is from Kurt Gutenbrunner, Austrian-born chef and owner of Wallsé in New York City, where he creates fine Austrian cuisine that reflects contemporary tastes and classic traditions. He is the author of . New York City chef and author of Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Tastes of Vienna.
We’ve added our own touch to Chef Gutenbrunner’s recipe: our Nana’s preferred garnishes of capers, sardines and sliced gherkins. Think of it as “surf and turf” Wiener Schnitzel.
Our favorite sides are cucumber salad and boiled parsley potatoes; but like Maria, we could go for some buttered egg noodles with parsley and cracked pepper.
Ingredients For 4 Servings
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more for seasoning
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 cups fine plain dried breadcrumbs
Veal cutlets, or scallops, are typically cut from the leg. Photo courtesy Fresh Direct.
1/2 pound veal scallops (leg) or eye round, cut across the grain into 4 equal pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
Curly parsley or lettuce
Optional garnishes: capers, sardines, sliced gherkins
1. LINE a large baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels.
2. WHISK the flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a wide shallow bowl. Lightly whisk the eggs and cream in another wide shallow bowl until the yolks and whites are just streaky. Mix breadcrumbs and 2 teaspoons salt in a third wide shallow bowl.
3. POUND the veal slices between sheets of plastic wrap to 1/8”–1/16” thickness, being careful not to tear. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
4. PROP a deep-fry thermometer in a large deep, skillet. Pour in the oil so that the bulb is submerged. Heat oil over medium heat to 350°. Add butter to skillet and adjust heat to maintain 350°F.
5. DREDGE 2 veal slices in the flour mixture and shake off the excess. Dip in the egg mixture, turn to coat and shake off excess. Dredge in the breadcrumbs, pressing to adhere. Shake off the excess and transfer the veal to the skillet. Using a large spoon, carefully baste the top of the veal with the hot oil.
6. COOK until the breading puffs and starts to brown, about 1 minute. Turn and cook until browned, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to a paper towel-lined sheet. Repeat with the remaining veal slices.
7. ASSEMBLE: Place the veal on individual plates. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley or lettuce.