Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ode to Osterreich, Part I: Escape to Schnitzel Mountain

Now that you've heard Matty's story... lets move on to a more relevant topic.

Finally, 14 months after I first arrived in Austria, we shall get around to discussing Austrian cuisine, a course I ACTUALLY took! Yes dear readers, believe it or not, I do have SOME formal education on cooking. I'd give a shout-out to Birgitta the awesome cook and professor at Salzburg College, but you can't shout in text. CAPS means serious, but not necessarily loud. It's a complicated blogosphere we live in.

Is this revelation of experience a betrayal of trust? Is it a sign that you may just get something out of this blog? Call it what you will, but the fact that I have been trained by a life-long Austrian cook means a few things. 1. Descriptions of Austrian dishes will be somewhat more reliable than others as we are not completely in the dark going into it. 2. You may learn dishes that you've either never heard of, or have heard of and giggled at under your breath because they start with the word "Wiener". 3. We probably giggled at some point too.

Speaking of which, the first dish that we will discuss / explain our endeavors to is that of Wiener Schnitzel! What a wonderful segway, I know. This dish, simply put, is the Schnit. It is the staple dish of Vienna and more broadly Austria, and it is both delicious AND simple in its creation. If you manage to screw it up, I applaud your efforts because it's tough to do. If you succeed, guests / family members / alien visitors will be amazed at the exotic cuisine you've managed to concoct (It's name is German?! Oh how cultural!). You can't very well lose with schnitzel.

About Schnitzel

First of all, it's pronounced "Vee-ner", not "Wee-ner". Lets get the chuckles aside, this is serious business (not really). In German, Vienna is called Wien, or "Veen" phonetically. W = V in German to English. Didn't think you learn that here, did you? So Wiener schnitzel realistically means "Viennese" schnitzel. Schnitzel just means schnitzel, but it's no less fun to say.

Schnitzel, as the photo of Shnitzel Mountain to the left shows, is a type of breaded / fried cutlet dish. While it may look somewhat basic in construction, there are some deviations that can be made when creating it. Traditionally schnitzel is made with veal, although veal is notably expensive. For this reason turkey breast cutlets are often substituted, or even pork cutlets work well. Matty and I have used all three meats throughout our schnitzel endeavors, and they all taste great. Beyond the meat decision, the equation is quite simple: you'll need breadcrumbs, eggs, flour, salt, pepper, cooking oil, and garnishes to create an inspiring meal.

Ingredients (In a simpler-to-read format)
(To serve 4)

2 eggs
2 T milk
2 lbs. leg of veal (or substitute turkey breast / boneless pork) - Cut into 1/4 in. thick slices
Freshly ground black pepper
4 T flour
1 cup finely ground, dried breadcrumbs
Oil for frying

Lemons (garnish)
Preiselbeeren / cranberry sauce (garnish)

So you start with your meat. As directed, you want to buy veal, turkey, or pork cutlets and beat them into 1/4 in. slices... they can either be bought this way or be flattened with a meat hammer. Trust me, the latter is significantly more fun. I've made schnitzel at home, at school, and abroad, and hands-down beating the meat is the favorite activity. It's loud, but whether you actually have a mallet or just a pronged crusher (see picture), it works.

Once flattened, sprinkle the meat slices liberally with salt and pepper. Get both sides, it is important for flavoring. Next, dip each slice in flour and shake off the excess. You'll want to have the flour out on a cutting board or large bowl or something to do this. Next, take your eggs and beat them with the milk long enough to combine them. Once this is accomplished, dip the floured veal slices into the beaten eggs. Yes, it will be gross at the time, we know... it will pay delicious dividends eventually, however. Finally, take the floured, egg-ed veal slices and dip them in the bread crumbs, covering both sides. Shake off the excess, and you're done with the sloppy part of the assembly line.

Now for the actual cooking: Heat oil in a heavy, 12-in. frying pan preferably until a light haze forms over it. Put in enough to cover the bottom. Next, add the prepared cutlets themselves. Cook the cutlets over meduim heat for 3-4 min per side or until they are a golden-brown color. Yes, like marshmallows, it is a universal indicator of "good". Use tongs to turn them over (the oil will attack you to the best of it's ability so keep your distance).

Realistically, this is about all it takes. As the schnitzel is finished being browned (you may want to check one to be sure you have cooked it through, but I've never run into a problem with that), it should realistically be served immediately. A warm schnitzel is a happy schnitzel. Garnish with lemons when you serve it... squeezing lemon on these guys is absolutely essential to getting the full experience in my book. You can also serve it with preiselbeeren (cranberry) preserves... we haven't done so the last few times we have made it, but that is simply because we forgot to pick some up. It is certainly recommended as well if you can find some. It is recommended as well that you serve schnitzel with some sort of potatoes / potato salad (I'll post the Austrian way to make good potatoes / potato salad in a future post... check there).

In all, schnitzel is easy yet rewarding in both taste and experience. It is not only something different for most people, but fun to make with friends and family. Since it is pretty difficult to mess up on schnitzel, the benefits of working together are rarely mitigated. If we can do it, just about anyone should be able to. If you haven't found out from the Alamo Soup post, we can be pretty inept. Best of luck, get you some of that schnit.

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