Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Teutonic Tuesday

I love when a meal just comes together, with little planning or preparation; I love it even more when that meal has a theme!  Matt and I picked up some pork chops on special at the grocery store this weekend and yesterday he requested schnitzel - a favorite dish from our time in Germany.  As it happened, we also had some asparagus on hand and, even though it wasn't the famous white variety we enjoyed overseas, it still rounded out the meal nicely.

Gorgonzola Schnitzel in Wuerzburg - this was divine!
The type of schnitzel most commonly encountered in the States is a pork variant of Wiener Schnitzel (the original is made of veal and is an Austrian dish named for the city of Vienna, or Wien, in German).  In Germany, this pork-based version is called Schnitzel Wiener Art, to differentiate from the original, but there are actually many different variations of the dish.  Jaegerschnitzel (trans: hunter's schnitzel) is a pork or veal cutlet topped with mushroom gravy. Ordering a Ziegeunerschnitzel (gypsy schnitzel) will get you additional red peppers, onions, and mushrooms in a tomato-paste-and-red wine sauce. Rahmschnitzel is served with a pepper-cream sauce and Salzburger Schnitzel is stuffed with bacon, mushrooms and onions. Are you hungry yet?

Cordon Bleu Schnitzel (with traditional lemon wedge!)
Whatever variety you chose, schnitzel is undeniably delicious. A health food it is not, but if you're looking for cultural comfort food, your search ends here. It's also incredibly easy to prepare - although I have to confess that I cheated and used a packet of seasoning brought back from Germany (my last one!) for my breadcrumbs.

My go-to breadcrumbs
You can just as easily whip up your own crumb mixture using regular breadcrumbs, a bit of salt and I like to add a little bit of ground black pepper. Then, all that remains is to pound the meat (about 1/4 inch thickness is best), dredge in flour, dip in beaten egg or milk (I've tried both and think I prefer the egg, by a small margin - it tastes a little richer and turns out a little more golden), and lightly coat with breadcrumbs.  Drop the cutlet in a pan of hot oil (I tend to skimp on the oil in the name of 'healthy eating' but, if you want to be authentic, the schnitzel should be swimming in it!) and fry each schnitzel individually for about 3-4 minutes each side.  Schnitzel burns easily, so be sure to watch it carefully!

The secret of a true, authentic schnitzel is in the 'crust.'  In every good schnitzel I ate in Germany, the breadcrumbs formed a sort of coating around the cutlet that didn't stick to the meat (it should be possible to separate the breading from the meat with your knife).  I have to confess that sometimes my schnitzel doesn't turn out this way.  I think the secret is in dredging with flour (I've skipped this step before and regretted it - though it still tastes good, of course!) and getting the schnitzel in the pan as soon as the breadcrumbs are on.

The final touch for our impromptu German evening was the addition of homemade soft pretzels.  I've been wanting to try some for a while and finally got around to it last night.  Pretzels always seemed so fussy and daunting to me - and thus were relegated to street-side treats - but we discovered that they're surprisingly easy.

Our Pretzels in Salt, Cinnamon and Parmesan
Ours didn't taste exactly like the famous, crusty German Brezeln we know and loved, but they were a pretty good substitute.  The secret to good Bavarian Laugenbrezeln is a boiling lye bath before baking. Since we were fresh out of caustic substances, I did some Googling and substituted baking soda which worked rather well.  They came out much blonder than their dark, robust German cousins, and a bit softer, but definitely still satisfied a craving and put a nice finish on our pseudo-Deutsch dinner.  After we gobbled up the crumbs and licked our fingers, the only thing missing was a tall hefeweizen and a few drinking songs. Prosit!

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