Dishes that fall into the “classic” category ask to be cooked time and again, their appeal traversing generations and often cultures. Wiener schnitzel is one such dish.
Not all schnitzels are equal. Their preparation and cooking methods are similar – a piece of meat breaded then baked or fried – but it’s the accompaniments that distinguish one schnitzel from another.
Dating back to when the Roman legions marched through the Alps around 100BC, there are many incarnations (Florentiner Kalbsschnitzel, served with tomatoes and risotto; Holsteiner schnitzel, topped with a fried egg; and paprikaschnitezel, with paprika sauce, to name but three), but it’s Wiener schnitzel that has entered the realms of the classic.
Austria’s most famous dish outside Austria is a simple affair. A thin escalope of veal is dredged in flour, egg and breadcrumbs before being shallow-fried. Many Austrians insist it must be cooked in lard. Regardless, it’s traditionally accompanied by a slice of lemon, lingonberry jam, and potato salad or butter-tossed potatoes with parsley.
It’s similar to Italy’s famous costoletta alla Milanese, which is crumbed and most often cooked on the bone. Alan Davidson’s The Oxford Companion to Food explains the difference neatly: “the Milanese cut the meat from the rib and fry it in butter, whereas the Austrians take the escalope from the leg, and fry it in lard”.
With Austria’s influx of Italian and German immigrants in the late 19th century came an increased appetite for veal, and costoletta may have crossed the Alps with those Italian migrants, morphing into Wiener schnitzel later.
For our version of the Austrian classic, the potatoes remain (albeit the crisp, fried variety) and it’s lightened up with fennel and radish slaw. A good squeeze of lemon is a must. After years languishing in the bain-marie wilderness, the time has come for this old favourite to regain its rightful place on our dinner tables.