I’m sure everyone knows that Wiener Schnitzel is a very thin, breaded and pan fried cutlet made from veal. However this dish is the most popular in Germany, Austria and Hungary. In Germany there are lots of restaurants hold on Wednesday Schnitzel day for very low prize. In Hungary there was an era when the whole country ate Schnitzel with fried potatoes on every Sunday!
The history of the Schnitzel
Schnitzel is one of the best known specialties of Viennese cuisine and it is a national dish of Austria.
The designation “Wiener Schnitzel” according to a legend, field marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz brought the recipe from Italy to Vienna in 1857. However in 2007, linguist Heinz Dieter Pohl discovered that this story had been invented. According to Pohl, the dish is first mentioned in connection with Radetzky in 1969 in an Italian gastronomy book, which was published in German in 1971 as Italien tafelt-Italian table, and it is claimed that the story instead concerned the cotoletta alla milanese. Before this time, the story was unknown in Austria. The Radetzky legend is however based on this book, which claims that a Count Attems, an adjutant to the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria gave a notice from Radetzky about the situation in Lombardy and mentioned a tasty veal steak in a margin note. After Radetzky had returned, the emperor personally requested the recipe from him.
Pohl relates this anecdote with the words: “This story is scientifically meaningless. No such Count Attems appears in any biographical work about the Austrian monarchy, which would have corresponded to this time and position. Pohl doubts that the Wiener Schnitzel came from Italy at all, with the basis that in the other “imported dishes” in Austrian cuisine, the original concept is mentioned, even if in Germanized form, such as in goulash or pancakes, and the Schnitzel does not appear even in specialized cookbooks about Italian cuisine.
Pohl hints that there had been other dishes in Austrian cuisine, before the Schnitzel, that were breaded and deep fried, such as the popular Backhendl, which was first mentioned in a cookbook from 1719. The Schnitzel was then mentioned in the 19th century as Wiener Schnitzel analogically to the Wiener Backhendl.
There are documents in the Milan archive of Saint Ambrose dated in 1148 where “Lumbolos cum panitio” (Latin) are mentioned, which can be translated as “little chops with breadcrumbs”. This can be a hint that a dish similar to the “Cotoletta alla Milanese” already existed at that time.
In 1887, E. F. Knight ordered a dish called Wiener schnitzel in a Rotterdam café and wrote “as far as I could make out, the lowest layer of a Wiener schnitzel consists of juicy veal steaks and slices of lemon peel; the next layer is composed of sardines; then come sliced gherkins, capers, and diverse mysteries; a delicate sauce flavors the whole, and the result is a gastronomic dream!
How to make it or the strict rules of making Schnitzel
Thus the typical/original dish is prepared from veal slices, butterfly cut, about 4 mm thin and lightly pounded flat (the typical sizes of an escalope used in the food industry range from 113 to 227 g (4–8 oz), slightly salted, and covered in flour, whipped eggs and bread crumbs. The bread crumbs must not be pressed into the meat, so that they stay dry and can be “souffled”. Finally the Schnitzel is fried in a good proportion of lard or clarified butter at a temperature from 160 to 170 °C, until it’s golden yellow. The Schnitzel must swim in the fat, otherwise it will not cook evenly: the fat cools too much and intrudes into the bread crumbs, moistening them. During the frying the Schnitzel is repeatedly slightly tossed around the pan. Also during the frying, fat can be scooped from the pan with a spoon and poured onto the meat. The Schnitzel is done after it turns golden yellow or brown.
The dish is traditionally served in Austria with (lettuce tossed with a sweetened vinaigrette dressing, optionally with chopped chives or onions), potato salad, cucumber salad, or parsley potatoes. Currently it is also served with rice, French fries or roasted potatoes.
In Germany it is common to serve it with a slice of lemon, to give the bread crumbs more taste, and a sprout of parsley. Nowadays it has become common in Northern Germany to serve it with lemon, cucumber slices, to achieve a pleasant appearance.
An other popular variation is made with pork instead of veal, because pork is cheaper than veal (usually about half the price). To avoid mixing up different products, the Austrian and German food committees have decided that a “Wiener Schnitzel” must be made of veal. A Schnitzel made of pork can be called “Schnitzel Wiener Art” (Viennese style schnitzel). In common parlance in Germany, a “Wiener Schnitzel” no more referred exclusively to a veal dish, but instead to a breaded steak in general.
Similar dishes to the Wiener Schnitzel also include the Surschnitzel (from cured meat), and breaded turkey or chicken steaks or the cotoletta alla milanese, the Schnitzel Cordon bleu filled with ham and cheese and the Pariser Schnitzel. The American chicken-fried steak is often said to be closely related to Wiener Schnitzel, the result of the adaptation of the recipe by German or Austrian immigrants to the Texas Hill Country to locally available ingredients. The Japanese tonkatsu is also a fried pork cutlet from the Japanese cuisine which is thicker than the European counterparts and widespread in Japan and South Korea.