The breaded meat cutlet goes by many names. For Germans and Austrians, it’s schnitzel. Italians call it cotoletta alla milanese – or milanesa for short. At our current favorite Mexican restaurant, it’s milaneza, and our favorite Polish spot calls its schnitzel schabowy. In Japan, it’s katsu (tonkatsu when it’s made with pork).
The breaded cutlet is also well-traveled. You’ll find variations on the theme from Denmark to Namibia, Iran to Korea, New Zealand to the Republic of Macedonia – and many other points in between.
It’s no surprise that, by any name, this preparation is so popular. It’s delicious – crunchy on the outside and tender within. It’s quick and easy to make: dredge cutlets in flour, dip them in beaten egg, coat with breadcrumbs and fry. And it literally stretches your animal protein dollar. Sliced or pounded thin, then beefed up with breading, each cutlet seems to contain more meat than it does.
The choice of meat is up to you. Wiener Schnitzel, the Austrian classic that started it all, is always made with veal. Pork is the most common choice for Japanese katsu – it’s also popular for Polish schabowy. Beef, turkey and chicken all have their proponents, too.
For this recipe, I opted for chicken and took a mostly tradition schnitzel approach: Dijon mustard beaten into the egg (whole grain mustard would work, too) and fresh parsley to finish. But I mixed things up a bit. I dredged the chicken cutlets in cornstarch instead of flour, a kind of makeshift Chinese velveting technique that kept the meat moist and tender. I used Japanese panko breadcrumbs for their extra crunchiness. And I tossed some Italian Parmesan with those breadcrumbs for added umami.
Crispy Chicken Schnitzel
Increasingly, you can find chicken breast cutlets already sliced thin at the supermarket. If not, buy boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, place between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound with a meat tenderizer until about 1/4-inch thick. You want each cutlet to weigh about 4 ounces. If the breast halves are overly large, halve them horizontally before pounding into cutlets – you’ll save a lot of pounding and not end up with cutlets the size of dinner plates.
4 4-ounce chicken breast cutlets
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup cornstarch
1-1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup panko breadcrumbs (or regular breadcrumbs)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons olive oil (plus more, if needed)
Chopped fresh Italian parsley for garnish
lemon wedges (optional)
1. Season chicken cutlets with salt and pepper on both sides. Arrange three separate shallow bowls with cornstarch, eggs and mustard beaten together, and breadcrumbs and Parmesan mixed together. Dredge cutlets in cornstarch, shaking off excess. Dip in egg mixture, making sure to coat. Dredge in panko mixture, again making sure to coat. Transfer cutlets to plate, pressing gently with fingertips to help panko adhere.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high flame. When the oil is very hot, add cutlets. Cook in two batches, if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan. Cook for 2 minutes on the first side, then turn and cook an additional 2 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. If working in batches, cook the second pair of cutlets, adding more oil to the pan, if needed – I didn’t need to do this.
3. Plate cutlets and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve lemon wedges alongside, if desired. In fact, do serve lemon wedges – I had intended to, but the lemon I thought was in the fridge had already given its life for another meal. Lemon would have added a nice bright note to the cutlets and a great spot of color to the photo above.
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