Oktoberfest is in full swing in Munich, Germany, right about now.
And I have been feeling a little homesick for my adoptive country…..
While living in Germany in the 1980’s my landlady, Frau Burkes taught me how to make her family’s traditional recipe for Jäger-Schnitzelmit warmem Kartoffelsalat (Jäger-Schnitzel with warm potato salad) and Apfelkuchen (apple tart).
This recipe is a variation on the Wiener Schnitzel, which is a breaded veal cutlet; dipped in flour, egg, and bread crumbs, then fried in butter or oil to a golden brown. It is traditionally served with a lemon wedge, which you can use to drizzle fresh lemon juice over the schnitzel.
The Wiener Schnitzel, by definition, is made with veal. However, many current German restaurants will offer a “Schnitzel” using different meats while still following the preparation techniques of the Wiener Schnitzel (dipped in flour, egg, and bread crumbs, and fried in butter or oil to a golden brown). You may see this called “Wiener Art,” meaning it was prepared like a Wiener Schnitzel, but the meat is not veal.
Frau Burkes’ family recipe calls for a veal schnitzel topped with a creamy, bacon mushroom sauce. Traditionally, this variation of the schnitzel is prepared without flour, egg, and bread crumb coatings. However, you will often find a breaded Jäger-Schnitzel,made according to the Wiener Schnitzel method.
When cooked properly, the schnitzel coating is crisp and brown but does not stick to the veal. You should be able to slide a knife between the meat and the coating. The trick to this is to fry the schnitzel immediately after it has been coated with bread crumbs. Letting the breaded veal sit before frying it causes the coating to stick to the meat.
Schnitzel has been a part of the European culinary landscape since the days of the Roman Empire. The development of thin meat, breaded and fried can be traced back to the 1st Century AD to Marcus Gavius Apicus, who is believed to have been a Roman gourmet and lover of luxury, who lived sometime during the reign of Tiberius. He is attributed with the authorship of the Roman cookbook “Apicius”.
Schnitzel eventually made it’s way to the New World of the Americas sometime between the late 1790’s to the mid 1800’s when German Immigrants flocked from the East Coast to Texas. Beef was more plentiful than veal or pork. So instead of using veal or pork for schnitzel they used beef. German butchers who were looking for a way to sell the tougher cuts of beef pounded it and tenderized it a bit. Legend has it that a cook accidentally grabbed one of these steaks by accident when doing an order of fried chicken. The accident was beloved that the dish became known as “Chicken Fried Steak”.
The traditional breaded schnitzel that is huge and is sometimes referred to as “carpet of crumbs” is pretty high in fat. Add a rich sauce and you really have a cholesterol feast. Although there is a place for the traditional schnitzel, it probably will become less a common weekly meal in the U. S. as Americans focus more and more on their health. The dish can be made with lightly breaded alternatives , and it can be made with skinless chicken breast and the lean part of the pork loin and also turkey breast. Combining some light toppings and sauces, you can include a schnitzel in your meal planning rotation on any given day of the week.
And for those who are not so familiar with German cuisine … if you are ever in a German restaurant and do not know what to select off the menu, start with a Wiener Schnitzel or a Jäger-Schnitzel. You will not be let down, because both are equally delicious!
Jäger- Schnitzel mit warmem Kartoffelsalat
(Jäger Schnitzel with warm potato salad)
For the Potatoes:
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the Veal:
Canola oil, for frying
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 large eggs beaten with 2 Tablespoons of water
2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Four 4-ounce veal cutlets, 1/3 inch thick, lightly pounded
For the Sauce:
1 pound mushrooms, washed, cut into bite-size slices
2-3 slices bacon, chopped into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup cream or milk
1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
A small bunch parsley, finely chopped, for garnish
In a medium bowl, whisk the vinegar with the sugar, thyme and 1/4 cup of the oil and season with salt and pepper.Put the potatoes and garlic in a pot and cover with water; season with salt and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until the potatoes are tender, 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and discard the garlic. Thinly slice the potatoes; add to the dressing and toss. Keep warm and set aside.
Season each veal cutlet with salt and pepper on both sides. Let stand at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, prepare your work area. You will need 3 plates – add the flour to the first one, add the eggs to the second one, and add the bread crumbs to the third plate. Arrange the plates in a row, close to the stove. Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy skillet or pan over moderately high heat for about 2 minutes.
For each veal cutlet, coat the cutlet with flour, dip it in the eggs, then coat it with bread crumbs. Put the coated veal cutlet immediately into the hot skillet. Cook each side for about 3 minutes, or until each side is a deep golden brown. Remove the schnitzel and place on a plate lined with paper towels (to absorb any extra oil). Keep warm.
Using the same pan as you made the schnitzels in, fry the mushrooms until they begin releasing water. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
Add a little butter to the same pan. Add onions and bacon. Cook until onions begin to brown. Add mushrooms back to the pan, then add the broth and cream. Add salt, pepper, and thyme. Bring mixture up to a simmer, and continue simmering until liquid has noticeably reduced (about 15-20 minutes) – stir occasionally.
Stir in the extra cream or milk into the sauce until the sauce reaches the desired consistency (the sauce shouldn’t be too thin and be creamy). Remove pan from heat. Stir in 2/3 of the chopped parsley. Add additional salt and pepper as needed.
To serve, place a schnitzel on a plate and top with the sauce. Sprinkle some chopped parsley over the sauce.
And for those wine lovers, the prefect pairing for this dish would be a vibrant, lemony Grüner Veltliner.