I grew up eating from the hot pan and cooling rack of a Swiss housewife.  So dishes centered around a tasty cutlet of meat feel like coming home.

Schnitzels feature prominently in Swiss cuisine (as they do around the world), but the Wiener schnitzel is something special.  Vienna in German is “Wien”—hence the “Wiener” schnitzel originates in the Austrian capital.  According to some web sources, the appellation is protected by Austrian law; restaurants are forbidden to sell Wiener schnitzels unless they are made from the traditional veal.  If they are selling the ubiquitous (and cheaper) pork version, they’re required to call it “Schnitzel Wiener Art” (i.e. schnitzel in the Wiener style), or tack on “vom Schwein”, leaving no doubt as to the paucity of baby cow in the dish.

So special is the Wiener version of what the yanks call “chicken-fried beef”, that no lesser authority than the Oxford English Dictionary gives it the “esp.” nod in its general definition for schnitzel:

schnitzel

A veal cutlet, esp. in Wiener ({sm}vi{lm}n{schwa}(r)) schnitzel, one coated with egg and breadcrumbs, fried and often garnished with lemon, capers, anchovies, etc., in the Viennese style.

Now, there are all kinds of recipes on the Interweb for Wiener schnitzel, but being a sometimes word nerd, I’ll jump at using the OED as a cookbook.  I also happen to love the similar Holstein schnitzel served up at the Rathskeller, since it combines in one dish at least four different and extremely efficient vehicles for salt.  So I’m going to assume that by “etc.”, the mouldy old dictionary academics on the River Thames meant “fried egg with paprika and black pepper.”

In my preparations for today, I also consulted my only Austrian friend, Rita, for her family recipe, which she was happy to divulge despite being a vegan!  One thing she said surprised me a little and wasn’t reflected in all the North American recipes I saw online.  She said I should fry in 1-2 cm of oil so the meat is floating.  I guess the real deal is practically deep-fried.  Hmm… my mouth just watered as I thought about meat and typed “deep-fried”.  Rita: you’re such a good sport.

I made a half-hearted attempt to locate some veal outside of the agribusiness-dealing grocery chains, but discovered that even specialty butchers have to special order it.  It seems the average Victoria shopper just ain’t that into mewling calf meat—must be those big brown eyes.  With two kids starting Kindergarten and pre-school this week, buying good veal took more foresight and planning than I could handle.  So instead, I sourced three cuts of Berkshire pork from Sea Bluff farms in Metchosin by way of the Village Butcher in Oak Bay.  Mr. Butcher was also kind enough to inflict his special tenderizing hammer-machine on the little strips of swine, prior to purchase.

After making sure the fire extinguisher was within arms’ reach, I set to flouring, egging, breadcrumbing and frying.  Here’s how things progressed:

When I dropped the first cutlet, I was a little intimidated by the furious popping, crackling and awesome bubbling racket that ensued.  But by the last one, I felt I’d got the hang of it.  The recipe calls for a 1/4 inch cut, and now I can see why.  I had to leave my thick cuts in a little too long to ensure they were cooked through, overcrisping the breading a little.  The bread I used was the densest loaf I could find at Cob’s, but my wimpy little food processor may not have ground it finely enough.  The breading was less-than-even and very thick, resulting in one crunchy piece of meat.  But the lovely squirts of lemon, the salty tangs of caper and anchovy, and the smooth mellow yellowness of the egg all served to temper the intensity of the fried pork.

A week ago, in preparation for today’s meat-frying adventure, I tried a schnitzel from the culinary sorceresses at Devour.  A thyme-breaded and prosciutto-wrapped pork schnitzel with lentils du Puy and stewed fruit sauce, to be precise:

It was damn fine.  But I think my Mom would prefer my bastardized OED schnitzel.

~ Rolf

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