Milanese ( or the phrase a la Milanese,“ in the style of Milan”) often refers to the method of preparing cutlets (either veal, pork, chicken, or turkey) by pounding them thin after which they are breaded and pan fried. The German speaking parts of the world refer to this as schnitzel (from the German word “sniz” meaning “cut”). Similar preparations are found worldwide and no wonder since it’s an easy and quick meal. You could finish the cutlets with lemon wedges or in a simple tomato sauce but I prefer topping the cutlets with a tangle of mixed greens. It’s light but deeply satisfying. Vegetarians, don’t despair. You can use eggplant. Slice it thinly. There’s no need to pound it. And while it has nothing to do with Milanese, the breading method works perfectly for firm, white fish fillets, such as fluke, tilapia, grouper, etc. It could just make a fish eater out of your pickiest eater. Or at least make your Friday night fish fry a little fancier.
I am guessing that this preparation came about from finding a way of dealing with tougher cuts of meat. By pounding the cutlets thinner, you break down the meat fibers thereby tenderizing them. Today that’s not as important but the thin nature of the cutlets means fast cooking. Ideally the oil in your pan should be hot enough so that as the bread crumbs brown on each side, the meat cooks through. A few minutes cooking on each side and you’re done.
As I said, you can use any meat. Thin sliced boneless pork loin that you find in the store is perfect since it will require less pounding. As for chicken, make slices from a breast. Don’t pound an entire breast. Turkey cutlets may be harder to find so you could make thin slices from a boned breast. If it’s more than you need, slice, wrap, and freeze the remaining turkey breast to use at a later date. (Those of you close to Philly’s Reading Terminal Market have Godshall’s as your go to place for all things meleagris).
When you are pounding the meat, don’t think of it in the same way as you would if you were hammering a nail. You want to thin the meat, not take out your frustrations on it. Place the thin slice of meat between plastic wrap and pound it out to about twice its original thickness without tearing it. A meat mallet will work but you can substitute with a rolling pin.
The breading step is the classic combination of flour, beaten egg, and bread crumbs. This method uses the “wet hand, dry hand” technique where one hand dredges the cutlet in the flour—your dry hand—while your other hand puts the floured cutlet into the egg wash and then into the bread crumbs, preventing both hands from becoming a floury, crumby mess. While an Italian might use plain bread crumbs, I like the not-so-traditional Japanese panko bread crumbs. You could also season the bread crumbs with a tablespoon or two of your favorite herb.
The salad for the cutlets can be any mix of greens or just one such as arugula. You could add some cheese to the mix, perhaps some shaved Parmesan, or goat cheese or a blue. Keep it fresh by making your own vinaigrette for the salad. It can be as simple as some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I include our “house” vinaigrette recipe below if you want it.
For two servings
6 to 8 ounces pork, chicken or turkey (or eggplant), sliced thinly
1/4 cup all purpose flour
salt and ground black pepper
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
1 cup bread crumbs
olive oil, for cooking
lemon wedges, optional
two good handfuls of salad green and some vinaigrette
1. Pound the cutlets gently to twice their size between pieces of plastic wrap then set them aside. Pounding hint: Place a folded kitchen towel under your cutting board. This will help to muffle most of the noise.
2. Place a baking rack onto a baking sheet. This will be for the completed cutlets after they have been breaded and later after they are cooked.
3. Set up your breading station: Place the flour onto a plate and season with 1 teaspoon salt and some ground black pepper and mix together. Beat the egg and water until blended and place it onto a second plate. Place the bread crumbs onto a third plate and season them if you wish, mixing the herbs evenly into the bread crumbs.
Going one at a time and starting with your left hand, dredge each pounded cutlet into the flour, shaking of any excess. Pass the cutlet to your right hand. Use your right hand to coat them in the egg wash and lastly into the bread crumbs, coating both sides. Set the breaded cutlet onto the wire rack. Repeat until all of the cutlets are breaded. Discard any leftover flour and bread crumbs; it should work out that you will use up most of the flour and crumbs.
4. Place a large sauté pan onto the stove over high heat. Add enough oil to the pan so that there’s about 1/8 ” of oil in the pan. When the oil is hot, add the cutlets to the pan; you may have to do this in two batches. Cook the cutlets until the bread crumbs are nicely browned. Turn the cutlets over and cook on the opposite side until brown. You can always flip them back over if they haven’t completely browned. Remove cutlets from the pan and place them back onto the wire rack. Cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil to keep warm. Repeat until all of the cutlets are cooked; reduce the heat under the pan if they appear to be cooking too quickly. You may need to add more oil to the pan.
5. Place the salad greens (and cheese) into a bowl and mix with a few tablespoons of vinaigrette. To serve, divide the cutlets onto two plates and top each with some of the salad. Alternately, you could serve the cutlets with lemon wedges with the salad on the side. I like mine with the salad on top. My red-haired food co-pilot prefers the latter presentation. Crispy, crunchy, and delicious, what more would you want?
A classic vinaigrette has 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar but when I make it, I change the ratio slightly because I like a slight vinegar bite. I like a combination of red wine and sherry vinegars but that’s me. I also use a mix of canola oil and extra virgin olive oil. Do as you wish. The vinegar/oil ratio is the most important part of a vinaigrette. You can use the shallots and/ or garlic or not. It depends on your taste.
This makes a small batch of dressing, more than you will need for the recipe but it can be stored in the refrigerator for future use. I make and store my vinaigrette in a small container. If you have a small clean jar, it’s perfect for the task. Just add everything and shake.
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 to 2 teaspoons finely minced shallot
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon honey (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
ground black pepper
9 Tablespoons oil (extra virgin olive oil or canola, or a combination of both)
1. Place the vinegar, shallots, and garlic into a small jar and let stand for a few minutes (The acid of the vinegar will pull out some of the flavors from the shallot and garlic and flavor the vinegar). Add the mustard and honey and stir together; season with salt and ground black pepper. Add the oil. Close the jar securely and shake until the vinaigrette is mixed together. Shake again before use. Spoon enough vinaigrette over the salad to even coat (but not drown) the salad and toss to distribute the vinaigrette evenly. (Alternately this can be made in a bowl. Mix everything except the oil together. While whisking, slowly add the oil to create a smooth vinaigrette. Store the vinaigrette in a small container in the refrigerator until needed. (If you had a small container in the first place you wouldn’t be using a bowl, would you?)