Every time I hear about schnitzel, the first thing I think of is this scene from “Hoodwinked.” (you might need to reload the page and disable any ad-blockers to see it.)
“Schniiiiiiiitzeeeeelllll!” “Ooooo, the Schnitzel Man!” (We think this is hilarious. I don’t care what that says about us.)
And the second thing I think of is my husband.
Not that my husband resembles a schnitzel or anything. I think of him because schnitzel is his all-time favorite meal, having grown up eating it because his mother is German. His birthday was on Saturday, and so, as usual, he requested Wienerschnitzel and Spaetzle for his birthday meal. Along with asparagus and lemon cake and strawberries. Mmmmm. I have to say, it was an easy request to fulfill!
My mother and youngest niece were visiting too, so it was a great day with some of my most-loved people!
You might not know what Wienerschnitzel is. (pronounced VEE-ner-shnit-zel) The name is all exotic and complicated sounding, but schnitzel is nothing more than breaded and fried meat.
Every culture has their own version of fried meat, and this is Germany’s. I’d never had it before I married into the family, but now I can say that it’s most definitely one of my favorites too! We always call it “wienerschnitzel” when we make it, but technically wienerschnitzel is made with veal. (“Weiner” = veal.) We usually make what should be called Hühnerschnitzel, actually, which is chicken, but for some reason we always call it Wienerschnitzel. I have no idea why. I do it because my in-laws do it, and most people don’t know the difference anyway.
(Correction: 3-12-13 My mother in law informed me that Wiener does NOT mean veal, like I (for some reason) thought. It just means someone from Vienna. Kalbsfleish does. So it’s perfectly okay to call it Wienerschnitzel I suppose!)
Whatever meat you use, the technique is the same. And you can call it whatever you want.
The most important part is to make sure your meat is thin. You start out with thin slices of meat, and then pound them to death until they’re as thin as they can be without falling apart. You can buy the “thin sliced” chicken at the store, but I always just get regular chicken breasts and use a sharp knife to cut 3 or 4 thin slices out of each breast. It’s way – like WAAAY – cheaper to do it this way, and really isn’t much work.
So, take your thinly sliced meat, and a meat hammer or tenderizer, and pound away!
Pound on both sides, making it as thin as you can, but be careful not to do it so much that it tears or falls apart. It’s a noisy process. My mother in law says that when they lived in Austria and Germany they always knew when the neighbors were making schnitzel!
After they’re pounded, assemble your ingredients for the breading: flour (in this case, whole grain spelt flour), eggs, and breadcrumbs. I don’t have measured amounts to give you for this. I just dump a bunch out and add more as I need it. Put each ingredient in a container and lay it out assembly-line style in order: chicken, flour, eggs, breadcrumbs, and then an empty plate or platter to hold the finished breaded meat.
The breadcrumbs could be a problem for an anti-inflammation diet. Do NOT use commercially prepared breadcrumbs because they’re made with refined flours and all sorts of other things you don’t want to be eating. It’s easy to make your own. I had a loaf of spelt bread (Berlin Bakery, found in the freezer section usually) that I whizzed through my food processor. Simple as that. If you want you can add in some oregano and basil to make it “Italian” breadcrumbs. Store it in the freezer until you want it.
So I combined these homemade spelt breadcrumbs with the cheap almond meal I get at Trader Joe’s for the breading. And it was great!
Once you have all your things lined up, go to work coating them. First dredge each piece of meat on both sides with flour. My mother in law does not do this step, but most recipes I’ve seen do. The flour helps the egg stick better, and makes a nicer coating.
Then do the egg. Both sides.
See how I’m holding the very edge? That’s to try to reduce how gummy my fingers get during it. It’s kind of messy, and you’ll probably need to rinse your fingers off a couple times in the process.
Then the breadcrumb/almond meal mixture. It’s usually easiest here to use your other (clean and dry) hand to scoop the breadcrumbs on top to keep the wet fingers holding the chicken from getting so messy.
Then pile the breaded chicken on the waiting plate or platter.
Then keep going! Out of 6 chicken breasts I got all these pieces of schnitzel. See what I mean about taking the time to slice up your own thin-sliced chicken? I think it was something like 24 pieces. This much pre-sliced chicken would be way more than the cost of 6 whole breasts!
You can do all this several hours ahead of time if you want. Sometimes I do this when I’m making it for company or a larger meal. I’ll do all the pounding and breading and then keep it in the refrigerator until I’m ready.
Next comes the frying part. This was a problem for me this time. I always used to fry it in vegetable shortening, but of course that was before I really knew about how horrible vegetable oils are, much less hydrogenated vegetable oils. The fats I stick to now are the natural ones: olive oil, coconut oil, and butter. But none of those are good for high-heat cooking like this calls for.
What I really needed was some lard. Lard is the fat that humans have traditionally used for this sort of cooking for thousands of years, because it holds up great under high heat. But I couldn’t find any non-hydrogenated lard. Most grocery stores will sell lard, but it’s usually hydrogenated – and that defeats the entire purpose of using lard in the first place! Before you buy any lard anywhere, ask and make sure it’s not hydrogenated first. And, preferably, it should not come from factory-farmed pigs, because of course then it will be more unhealthy. Lard from a pastured pig is actually a perfectly safe and healthy cooking fat, but you’ll have to be careful about how much lard from commercially raised pigs you use if you can’t find anything else, and only use it occasionally.
Anyway, I couldn’t find it anywhere. But I did see at Whole Foods this rendered duck fat.
And I thought, hmmm, it’s still animal fat. It’ll probably be just as good. I did a quick internet search on my smart phone to make sure (what did we ever DO before having the world at our fingertips like that?) and learned that it’s a highly stable, and highly delicious cooking fat that’s kind of treasured in culinary circles. Good enough for me! It wasn’t cheap. But it was my husband’s birthday and I didn’t have any better options so I bought it anyway.
So, you’ll want to get some lard, tallow, duck fat, or some other (non-hydrogenated) animal cooking fat, and put several tablespoons of it in a large pan, enough to have about 1/4 inch covering the bottom.
Wait until it’s very hot and sort of shimmery, and then place 2 or 3 pieces of meat in.
Cook it on the first side until the sides of the meat are white and then flip. Keep the heat high the whole time.
This will all be VERY fast, because the meat is so thin. My gas stove cooks the first side in about a minute, and the second side in less than that. When we make this on my mother in law’s electric skillet it seems to take forever, though. You have no idea how excruciating it is waiting through the drudgery of cooking on an electric appliance after being used to the efficiency of a gas one. It’s torture. So if all you have is electric, it’ll probably take longer than it does for me.
Remove the meat to a plate, and then transfer to a dish that’s being kept in the oven on warm – like 200. I just open the oven up and dump it in.
Keep going until it’s all done, adding more fat as necessary. The schnitzel will keep in the warm oven like that for a while and be perfectly good, so I always do all the schnitzel first, and then do the other things that don’t keep as well (i.e. the spaetzle and asparagus.) This keeps you from going crazy trying to do everything at once in the kitchen!
Serve with lemon juice to sprinkle on top. This part is really not optional! The lemon adds the perfect balance to the fried meat and is a necessary part of the schnitzel experience!
In my opinion, no schnitzel is complete without some spaetzle to go with it, so you’ll want to make sure to go on to my next recipe for that too!
(NOTE: If you don’t eat grains, you can omit the flour and breadcrumbs. Just coat the raw meat with egg, and then almond meal instead.)
- 6 chicken breasts (or other meat of choice)
- 2 + cups whole grain spelt flour
- 4 + eggs
- 1.5 + cups spelt or whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 1.5 + cups almond meal (can omit and use all breadcrumbs if desired. Can also omit breadcrumbs and use all almond meal if preferred.)
- good quality (non-hydrogenated) lard, tallow, duck fat, or other animal-based cooking fat.
- lemon juice
- Cut the chicken breasts into thin slices with a very sharp knife. You should be able to get about 3 pieces from each breast. Or you can just buy pre-sliced thin chicken breasts.
- Combine the breadcrumbs and almond meal into a wide, shallow dish. To make breadcrumbs, simply take a loaf of bread with allowable ingredients (such as Alvarado St. Bakery sprouted wheat, or Berlin Bakery spelt bread - check ingredients label on all bread before buying) and whiz it through a food processor. Store in the freezer.
- Put the flour and eggs each into their own separate wide, shallow containers. Line up the ingredients for assembly in order: raw chicken, flour, eggs, breadcrumbs, and an empty platter.
- Dredge each piece of chicken in flour, then egg, and then coat with breadcrumbs. Pile them on the empty platter.
- Heat the oven to very low, about 200. Heat enough lard/animal fat in a skillet to cover the bottom to about ¼ inch until it's very hot and shimmers slightly.
- Keeping the heat high, cook each piece of meat on the first side until it's well-browned and the sides are firm and white, and then flip and cook until the opposite side is well-browned.
- Remove the cooked meat onto a plate, and then transfer to a large dish in the warm oven. Keep the meat in the oven until you finish cooking the rest of the meal.
- Serve with fresh lemon juice to drizzle over the meat.