Schnitzel is one of those dishes – so easy, so satisfying, so delicious – that almost every country, every cuisine in the world has their own version of it. We may think of schnitzel as being German or Austrian, but at its heart, its tenderised, boneless meat, thin enough that frying until golden will also thoroughly cook the meat within; like porridge, or scrambled eggs, or custard, fried, breaded cutlets are found the whole world over.
From Japanese Katsu cutlets to Southern American chicken tenders, the French chicken Cordon Bleu stuffed with ham and cheese to Italian veal Milanese, and even Middlesborough’s cult take away favourite, the parmo, a breaded cutlet served with a white sauce and melted cheddar cheese, we can’t get enough of the stuff. True fast food, it’s unsurprising that it has a hundred different variations.
In Germany, a schnitzel tends to be made of pork, although around the world, beef and chicken are equally common. A Wiener schnitzel is Austrian; it has an official protected geographical indication, which means that to warrant the ‘Wiener’ prefix, it must be made from veal. It’s possible now to get high welfare rose veal which doesn’t carry the same concerns as ‘classic’ white veal, and schnitzel is a fantastic way to cook it.
I’ve gone for pork here, as it’s more easily available, but this recipe will work similarly well with a veal escalope, or chicken or turkey escalope or breast. Cooking schnitzel is a very simple process: the meat is flattened, then dredged in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, before being fried until golden.
To tenderise, place the piece of meat in a freezer bag or between two sheets of clingfilm. Gently tap with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer: you’re trying to evenly flatten the meat, not bash it into submission. I mix a little bit of mustard powder through the (generously seasoned) flour to bring an extra dimension to the meat, and I like to use panko breadcrumbs, which are Japanese, for the coating – they’re extremely crunchy, and create a light, crisp coating, but normal breadcrumbs, which are finer, are fine too. Frying in a mixture of butter and oil gives great flavour to the outside of the schnitzel, while also making it less likely to burn.
Schnitzel makes a great fast supper: it cooks quick as a flash – the thinness of the pounded steaks mean that they cook quickly and effectively in a pan on the hob – with only four minutes needed for each side. But it feels fancy, grown up and elegant. There’s only one potential hurdle: coating the meat in breadcrumbs – or panéing – can be a messy business.
The key to not ending up panéing yourself and your entire kitchen in the process is to keep one ‘dry’ hand and one ‘wet’ hand: use your dry hand to turn the cutlet in the flour, your wet hand to turn it in the egg, and then revert to the dry hand to turn in the breadcrumbs. And make sure you have your three dishes of flour, beaten egg, and breadcrumbs ready: you don’t want to be trying to measure out panko while holding a soggy cutlet and covered in egg.
Schnitzel cries out for something acidic and something salty: capers tick both of those boxes, a quarter lemon served with the steak is as practical as it is pretty, and anchovies laid over the top are traditional. Sometimes a goldfish-orange yolked fried egg is set on top, and for an authentic German schnitzel experience, serve alongside spaetzle or potato salad.
Makes: Dinner for two
Takes: 15 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
2 boneless pork cutlets
½ teaspoon mustard powder
4 tablespoons plain flour
1 large egg, beaten
75g panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Lemon, to garnish
2 tablespoons capers (optional)
- First, trim any fat from the pork, and lay one of the cutlets in a freezer bag or between two sheets of clingfilm, and lightly tap with a rolling pin or a meat tenderiser until the meat is thin, even, and increased in surface area. Do not hit it so hard that the meat tears. Repeat with the second cutlet.
- Set up three saucers: one with plain flour mixed with a small pinch of fine salt and the mustard powder, one with beaten egg, and one with breadcrumbs.
- Drag each cutlet through the saucers, first the flour, then the egg, then finally the panko. Be sure to fully coat the cutlet at each stage, especially with the egg and breadcrumbs.
- Melt the butter in a heavy-based frying pan. When the butter begins to foam, add both the breaded cutlets. Cook for four minutes on each side, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.
- Serve with a lemon wedge and a spoonful of capers over the top of each cutlet.