Thursday, January 22, 2009
You have to admit - unless you are superhuman healthy - every once in a while, you crave a little fried somethin' somethin'. There are days when walking past a restaurant that reeks of Fryolator can be the undoing of even the most determined-to-be-fit individual. As I would only fit into that category on January 2 each and every year - January 1st is a holiday, fer crying out loud - the wafting scent of bubbling oil can really send me into a tizzy.
JR makes a dish that I like to call "JR's Famous Breaded Chicken Breasts", and they have many uses: stuffed, with red sauce and melted cheese, or simply with some herbs mixed into the bread crumbs. We haven't had a whole lot of boneless skinless chicken breasts these last few months, and I was missing their fried goodness. As it turns out, pork sirloin cutlets make a darned good vehicle for breading and frying, and are generally less expensive per pound than boneless skinless chicken breasts. They have the added benefit of having an official and oft-maligned name. Pork Schnitzel. Or, were you to be ordering the dish in Austria, Weiner Schnitzel vom Schwein will differentiate it from true Weiner Schnitzel (pssst - "schwein" is the key here).
Weiner Schnitzel refers to veal cooked in the style of Vienna, though - and here is the shocking part given that I am writing about it - it is possible that it originated in Milan where it is known as cotoletta alla milanese. So it seems your suspicions are true. Everything I cook comes right back to Italy. Or may come right back to Italy. There are a few theories on the origin of the Schnitzel dish, so I suppose I shouldn't choose to believe the one that most appeals to me. But, then, isn't that what we humans do?
Regardless of my predisposition to believe this is a dish of Italian origin, we can prove that it satisfies the requirement for fried scrumptiousness, and for very little money. Though it is typically served with lemon and parsley, JR and I enjoyed ours with some sauteed mushrooms and orzo with butter. Why stop with breading and frying when you can add butter to the dish as well, right?
Weiner Schnitzel vom Schwein alla armer Mädchenfeinschmecker (or Breaded Pork Cutlets in the style of Poor Girl Gourmet - I'm sure this is the absolutely 100% correct translation, so don't you worry about a thing. And I had to include the "alla" in there because, well...I think the dish originated in Milano, ok?)
4 sirloin cutlets, approximately 1/4 pound each, pounded to approximately 1/4-inch thickness. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to unleash your frustrations on the cutlets. I whacked the bad boys around with a hefty rolling pin for about ten minutes. Quite satisfying. And they were quite flat when I was done with them.
1 cup panko breadcrumbs - these are Japanese-style breadcrumbs and are more coarse than your standard breadcrumbs. Whole Foods sells a store brand that costs $1.99 for 4 cups, which is a pretty good deal for extra crunchiness, in my humble opinion.
2 teaspoons fennel seed
2 teaspoons dried thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour for dredging the cutlets
2 eggs, well beaten, for coating the dredged cutlets
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
The cooking time on this entire dish is about 4-6 minutes. However, there is a small amount of prep time as you must first whack the cutlets into submission, which for them means being flattened to about a quarter-inch, then, you will need to coat them with seasoned breadcrumbs. This whole process takes ten to fifteen minutes up front, then an additional 30 minutes to refrigerate the breaded cutlets.
The breading technique is this: mix the breadcrumbs with the fennel seed and thyme, and then add enough salt and pepper to season the crumbs to your liking.
Place the flour, the eggs, and the seasoned breadcrumbs into three separate shallow bowls. If the flattened cutlets are too large to fit in the bowls, you are free to cut them into manageable shallow-bowl-friendly pieces.
You will need to bread each cutlet separately, so to start, dredge the first cutlet in flour so that it is covered lightly over its entire surface. Second, coat the cutlet with egg, and allow excess egg to drain off before moving the cutlet to the seasoned breadcrumbs. Next, cover completely with the seasoned breadcrumb mixture, and finally, transfer the cutlets to a baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Repeat with the remaining cutlets, and then, as you've been made aware previously, you must set the pan with the cutlets in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. This chilling time is important because it allows the crumbs to adhere to the cutlets rendering a complete crust rather than a crust-in-patches, which is slightly less desirable and would then be referred to as teilweise-Schnitzel, or "partially Schnitzeled" as I translate it to English. My German is stellar, so you should really trust me on this.
Now that your cutlets have been properly refrigerated and all crumbs have adhered to the pork, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large non-stick frying pan. Working in batches if you are unable to fit all of the cutlets in one layer, cook until each side is golden brown, approximately 2-3 minutes per side. If you need to keep the cooked cutlets warm while you fry up a second batch, place them on a pan in an oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees. If you used waxed paper on your refrigeration pan and want to use that same pan for the keeping-warm task, be sure to remove the waxed paper first.
Top with some simply sauteed mushrooms, or perhaps you're a purist and would prefer to go the lemon and parsley route, or maybe some caramelized onions have caught your fancy - feel free to choose a side that suits you. As mentioned previously, I also served orzo coated with melted butter for we cannot have a meal without the ever-present starch dish, but you could just as easily prepare wide egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or pan-fried potatoes (more frying!). No matter what you choose, you still have the satisfaction of a breaded and fried dinner, and sometimes that's exactly what you need.
Dinner tonight: Roasted Chicken Legs and Olives with Crispy Kale and White Beans. Estimated cost for two: $6.91. The chicken legs were $3.12 for 3. JR will eat two, I will eat one. The white beans are 99-cents per can, and, yes, I am using canned. It's a weeknight, so cut me some slack. The kale was $2.49 for the bunch, we will eat about half of that, so $1.25. The olives were $5.99/pound for Castelvetrano (green) olives, and we are going to use just a couple of ounces, so that's around 75-cents. This is a riff on a roasted duck with olives that I have had at Latte di Luna in Pienza, Italy. I may try it with actual duck in the near future, but you'll need to keep me posted as to when duck is on sale, ok? And seeing as I'm not going to be in Pienza, Italy any time soon, chicken legs with olives will have to do. I will use around 45-cents worth of olive oil in this dish, along with a shallot (for the flavoring of the crisping of the kale part), which costs 25-cents, and around 10-cents worth of thyme. If you don't love beans, you could just as easily do this with either orzo (love the orzo), rice, or cous cous.