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'Take some schnitzel and grind it," said an Israeli-Iraqi friend when she explained how she makes kubbeh. "Do you mean chicken breasts?" I asked. "Of course!" she replied.
Chicken schnitzel is so common in Israel that the name of the dish is sometimes used for the cut of chicken. The same is true for beef slices in Mexican markets in Los Angeles. At those supermarkets I've often seen "milanesa" displayed in the meat department. It refers to boneless beef for making milanesa, or Latin American-style schnitzel, which is derived from the Italian cotolette alla milanaise, or Milan style veal cutlets. Some experts consider the Italian dish to be the original version from which others developed their schnitzel. Whether the cook is in Israel, Europe or Latin America, the technique is the same - the meat is coated in flour, then in beaten egg, then in bread crumbs and finally it is fried until golden brown.
Authentic Viennese schnitzel, or Wiener schnitzel, has to be made with veal. According to the Web encyclopedia "Practically Edible," www.practicallyedible.com, by Austrian law, if Wiener schnitzel is not made with veal in restaurants, a qualifier must be added, such as wiener-schnitzel-style turkey. Lesley Chamberlain, author of The Food and Cooking of Eastern Europe, wrote: "The only 'legal' Wiener schnitzel is made with veal. The distinction was of religious importance in [famous author] Joseph Wechsberg's home town of Ostrawa in Moravia, where it divided the Sunday menu: The Jews had Wiener schnitzel, the Gentiles had roast pork with sauerkraut." Gretel Beer, author of Austrian Cooking, is very particular about her schnitzel. She insists that the meat should be the best fillet of veal. "Any self-respecting schnitzel should about cover your plate," she wrote. "Some wicked people smother it in gravy... Others decorate it with slices of hard-boiled egg and an olive and bits of anchovy curled round, when all a Wiener schnitzel really longs for is just a nice wedge of lemon." She does allow a garnish of sharp pickled cucumber.
A Hebrew cookbook that I acquired in the early 1970s, Yalkut Hamirshamim (The Recipe Briefcase) by Sonia Horovitz-Turknitz, specifies that schnitzel is made from lamb, beef or turkey breast and doesn't even mention veal. For vegetarian options, you can buy dehydrated soy schnitzel, which you soak in water before breading and frying it. You can also make schnitzel from firm tofu, large mushrooms or sliced vegetables such as zucchini.
At an Argentine restaurant in Los Angeles where I dined recently, milanesa was made with steak or chicken breast. The menu also featured milanesa "napolitana" style, topped with tomato sauce, ham and provolone cheese. For a kosher adaptation, you can top chicken schnitzel with smoked turkey and parve, soy-based cheese; or you can cover eggplant schnitzel with soy-based sandwich meat and real cheese.
"In the Austrian style," wrote Chamberlain, "as Julie Andrews sings, schnitzel often goes with noodles, while the Czechs prefer dumplings, potatoes or rice." In Mexico, Argentina and Chile milanesa is popular as a sandwich in a French-type roll with tomato and lettuce, sometimes with mayonnaise or avocado. When it's served on a plate in Latino eateries, mashed potatoes are a popular accompaniment.
My friend Judy Bart Kancigor, author of Cooking Jewish, uses the schnitzel blueprint to make sesame seed chicken, flavoring the bread crumbs with paprika and sesame seeds and seasoning the egg with soy sauce. She serves the chicken with a sauce of apricot preserves, garlic and soy sauce. This might raise some Austrian eyebrows! On second thought, maybe they would find it "kosher," since it's not called Wiener schnitzel!
CHICKEN BREAST SCHNITZEL WITH CAPER DRESSING
You can use thin, tender veal slices in this recipe instead of chicken. If you prefer, substitute diced pickles for the caper dressing.
450 gr. to 500 gr. boneless skinless chicken breasts
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 or 3 garlic cloves, crushed (optional)
1â„3 cup all-purpose flour
2â„3 cup dry bread crumbs
1 or 2 eggs
about 1â„3 cup vegetable oil or olive oil
Caper Dressing (see Note), or lemon wedges
Rub chicken pieces all over with crushed garlic, and
then discard garlic pieces. Sprinkle chicken with
Spread flour in a large plate and mix it with a pinch of salt. Spread bread crumbs in second plate. Beat 1 egg in a shallow bowl. Lightly coat 1 chicken piece with flour on both sides. Tap and shake to remove excess flour. Dip piece in egg. Dip in bread crumbs, completely coating both sides; pat lightly so crumbs adhere. Set on a large plate. Repeat with remaining chicken. If necessary, beat another egg. Set coated pieces on plate side by side.
Heat oil in a heavy large skillet. Add enough chicken to make one layer. SautÃ© over medium-high heat about 3 minutes per side or until golden brown. Turn carefully using two pancake turners. If oil begins to brown, reduce heat to medium. If you like, set schnitzels on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Set chicken pieces side by side on ovenproof platter and keep them warm in a 135Âº oven. Top each portion with a small spoonful of Caper Dressing or a lemon wedge, or serve dressing or lemon separately.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: Caper Dressing - Combine 1â„2 cup finely chopped mild onion, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1â„4 teaspoon dried oregano and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Let stand about 5 minutes. Cut skin and all white pith from 1 lemon; cut lemon in segments, then in tiny dice. Add to bowl of onions. Rinse and add 2 tablespoons capers and a pinch of cayenne pepper. A short time before serving, add 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning.
CORNMEAL-CRUSTED EGGPLANT SCHNITZEL
Eggplant's meaty texture makes it a popular choice for vegetarian schnitzels. The crunchy corn-meal crust is a favorite coating in the US for fried fish. Serve the eggplant on its own, or napolitano style - topped with a little thick tomato sauce, a slice of yellow cheese and, if you like, a thin slice of parve soy meat.
450 gr. to 700 gr. eggplant
salt and freshly ground pepper
2â„3 cup all-purpose flour
2â„3 cup bread crumbs
1â„3 cup cornmeal
about 1â„3 cup vegetable oil
lemon wedges (garnish)
parsley or fresh coriander sprigs (garnish)
Peel eggplant if desired. Cut in slices about 1 cm. thick. Sprinkle eggplant slices lightly with salt and pepper.
Spread flour in a large plate and mix it with a pinch of salt. Mix bread crumbs and cornmeal; spread mixture in second plate. Beat eggs in a shallow bowl. Lightly coat 1 eggplant slice with flour on both sides. Tap and shake to remove excess flour. Dip piece in egg. Dip in cornmeal mixture, completely coating both sides; pat lightly so crumbs adhere. Set on a large plate. Repeat with remaining eggplant. Set coated pieces on plate side by side.
Heat 1â„4 cup oil in a heavy large skillet. Add enough eggplant to make one layer. SautÃ© over medium-high heat about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown. Turn carefully using two pancake turners. If oil begins to brown, reduce heat to medium. Set slices on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Set fried eggplant slices side by side on ovenproof platter and keep them warm in a 135Âº oven. Serve them with lemon wedges and herb sprigs.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.