What is it about a breaded and fried slice of meat that is so cross-culturally endearing? Call it a cutlet, call it chicken-fried steak. Call it schnitzel or Milanesa or cotoletta alla Milanese; everybody loves it the world around. Use beef, veal or pork. Or use chicken or turkey. It’s all good.
The technique is always the same: Meat is pounded flat, dipped in flour and beaten egg, then coated in bread crumbs and shallow-fried until golden and crisp.
There are abundant regional variations, and I try to sample them wherever I go. Quality varies, but if you are a fan, it is hard to find a truly bad version. The point is, even a tough cut of meat, when prepared in this fashion, emerges from the pan succulent and tender.
I’ve had genuine delicate Wiener schnitzel in Vienna, authentic big-as-a-plate Milanese cutlets in Milan and the well-loved Milanesa in Argentina, sometimes as a sandwich. I can’t resist even a so-so truck stop rendition of chicken-fried anything, country gravy and all. I have a fondness for my Israeli friend’s stellar chicken schnitzel rolled in cornflake crumbs. And a morsel or two of Japanese tonkatsu in a panko crust is always nice.
Making this breaded marvel is easy at home. I cut thin slices from a pork loin and flatten them only a bit. Rather than fine dry crumbs, I prefer to make soft crumbs from a day-old French loaf, cubed and whirled in a food processor, which creates a coating with a little texture.
Olive oil is my choice for frying; clarified butter or good lard is fine, too. Make sure the oil is hot, but not too hot, and don’t skimp. You need more than a film of oil in the pan to achieve the perfect color and crunch. Season your cutlets both before and after frying (it makes a difference) and serve them as soon as they are ready.
I scatter chopped parsley, lemon zest and capers over the top, along with a sprinkling of chopped egg. But a lemon wedge is all a well-fried cutlet really needs. Don’t forget to administer a squeeze of lemon juice just before digging in.
To see a printable recipe, click on link below:
POUND pork slices to flatten slightly with a meat mallet. Season on both sides with salt and pepper.
SPRINKLE a baking sheet or platter with bread crumbs. Dust pork slices with flour on both sides, then soak in beaten egg for 2 minutes. Using a fork or tongs, remove pork slices one at a time from egg mixture and place on top of crumbs. Sprinkle tops of slices with more bread crumbs, then turn over and sprinkle again so each slice is well coated. (They may be prepared up to this point an hour ahead and refrigerated, uncovered.)
MIX together parsley, lemon zest and capers in a small bowl. Chop hard-cooked egg and set aside.
POUR olive oil to a depth of 1/2 inch in a large cast-iron skillet (or use two pans to avoid crowding). Turn heat to medium high. When oil looks wavy, carefully place cutlets in pan and fry for 2 minutes, until golden. (Reduce heat if necessary.) Turn and cook for 2 minutes on other side, then remove and drain on paper towel. Season fried cutlets lightly with salt and pepper.
ARRANGE cutlets on a warm platter. Sprinkle with parsley mixture, then with chopped egg. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.Yield: 4 servings