When we were kids, German children could be easily classified into two types: spaghetti bolognese kids and schnitzel kids, depending on which dish they would go for in a restaurant. Not that the menus didn’t offer anything else: usually given titles from popular fairy tales such as ‘Cinderella’s plate’ or ‘Pinocchio’, you could always choose fish fingers, Spätzle with gravy, or even, for the little ones, a ‘robber plate’ with a fork to rob whatever you like from your parents’ or siblings’ plates.
Once you had made up your mind you usually stuck to it – once a schnitzel, always a schnitzel. Like many German families at the time, we would quite regularly visit a restaurant for a Sunday lunch, probably once a month, And the German post-war president Adenauer’s motto, ‘no experiments’, applied not only for our choice of lunch, but also for our choice of restaurant: it had to be the Haghof, a country inn hidden in the hilly forests nearby, serving traditional Swabian food. No experiments.
The rooms were clad in aged wood panelling, and in the front section they had a giant stuffed hog’s head mounted on the wall, right above a table, tongue sticking out between the fangs of its grizzly head – we could never quite understand why our parents refused to ask for that table! Just imagine! To be able to look at that grinning visage all though your meal!
When we arrived, reading book in hand to pass the time between courses, the waitress would grin and welcome us with a friendly ‘The Schnizelkids!’, never asking what we wanted – only when it came to desserts, as we might occasionally change our preferred ice cream flavour. The schnizel were, in fact, delicious: tender and thin, covered in a delicate layer of breadcrumbs like a thin blanket. The skill is to achieve air pockets between the meat and the breadcrumbs, and their schnitzels had the most perfect cover.
The dish is considered to be of Viennese origin, but you find similar recipes described as ‘Milanese’. The term ‘Viennese Schnitzel’ is protected to describe veal escalopes covered in breadcrumbs – its cheaper cousin, which uses pork escalopes in lieu of the more pricey veal, has to be called ‘Viennese-style Schnitzel’, similar to the distinction between the ‘Zurich Meat Strips’ and ‘Meat Strips Zurich Style‘ I made as part of my World Cup Challenge. We serve Viennese Schnitzel always with potato salad and lettuce, but on the children’s menu it would invariably be fries. Forget about the side salad, that’s just decoration … I decided against the fries on this occasion, growing up and all that, as well as having to fry them myself, has somewhat taken the lustre off.
The challenge was Frugal Hausfrau‘s suggestion to compete head-to-head under a schnitzel-themed Friendly Fire. You might remember I’ve got Cake-Dana’s invention of a timed cook-along: two contestants, two kitchens, but the same dish. It’s a brilliant way to get to know other bloggers as you work out a dish you both like, make it and post about it simultaneously. The results are always surprisingly different, considering that you both worked under the same title! Check out mine and Plate du Jour‘s take on cheesecakes, for example, or Dana’s and Food is the Best Shit Ever‘s Pork Tacos, to get an idea of the fun that’s to be had in intercontinental cooking!
Frugal Hausfrau’s been a real inspiration over these last months: her no-nonsense approach to pricing is an inspiration in itself, but I particularly like her very practical way of cooking. Here’s someone who knows what she’s doing, and enjoying every aspect of it. When she mentioned the schnitzel sandwiches she had as a child growing up in Iowa I was intrigued – I had to find out more about what happened to my favourite childhood dish after it crossed the Atlantic! So I am all tenterhooks now to see how she managed to recreate her childhood dish, as well as looking forward to tucking into a ‘Rumpelstiltskin Plate’ myself…
In order to impress her I have come up with an ingenious way to inspire you to save some money when you make this dish (money you could then use to splash out on veal escalopes, I suppose): make your own breadcrumbs! Don’t buy that overpriced, cardboard-flavoured nonsense when you can have deliciously tasting breadcrumbs for free! Simply keep some leftover white bread in a cotton bag for a few days, or until it has dried out. Grate it over a coarse grater and let the crumbs dry out a little more. Finally wrap them up in a kitchen towel and use a rolling pin to crush them into tiny little crumbs. They’ll last for a month or two as long as you keep them dry. Now, how frugal is that!
As for the veal, the cruel practice of keeping young calves in a dark and confined space to keep their meat white are fortunately mostly over. You can buy responsibly sourced veal and you’ll recognise it by its pink colour. The flavour is ever so mild, in perfect contrast with the breadcrumb cover.
Viennese Schnitzel (serves 4)
- 4 thin veal escalopes (or pork, but then you are required to change the title …), ca. 150g each
- 100g plain flour
- 2 eggs
- 200g fine breadcrumbs
- salt, pepper to taste
- 250g clarified butter (ghee) or lard, to fry
Salt and pepper the escalopes from both sides, then prepare three plates with the ingredients for the breadcrumb batter: one with flour, one with the beaten eggs and one with the bread crumbs. It works best if you arrange them from right to left, starting with the flour (until you are left-handed, that is).
Melt the butter or lard in a deep frying pan. Keep it at a medium heat – if the fat is too hot you’ll end up with charcoal-covered raw escalope, which is not a very popular dish at all.
Place a serving plate in the oven and keep it at a low temperature in the oven (ca. 160C/300F) to keep the food warm while you are frying the next batch.
Finally dip the escalope into the breadcrumbs. With your – clean – right hand you can cover the upper side with crumbs, this avoiding any unnecessary movements that would mess up the thin cover of crumbs. Lift and lightly shake, then place the schnitzel in the frying pan.
Use a spoon to pour hot fat over the upper side of the schnitzel, to help it brown evenly. When you turn it, use a spatula or similar rather than a fork as you don’t want to pierce the meat. You will notice the batter coming up in bubbles, which means it has the perfect consistency – take care not to destroy it when handling the meat!
Once it has a lovely golden colour, place the schnitzel on a bit of kitchen towel as a token gesture towards your arteries. Keep it on the warm plate in the switched-off oven while you prepare the remaining schnitzels.
Serve with a slice of lemon and a choice of potato salad and lettuce. Or go for fries, for old times’ sake … I’ll be heading over to the Frugal Hausfrau now to see what she’s come up with!