The most celebrated schnitzels in Vienna feature a crisp golden crust that puffs dramatically around a thinly pounded veal cutlet (pork loin cutlets are an easy, inexpensive alternative to veal), allowing the meat to cook gently within. Head over to Germany and you are more likely to find schnitzel with a crust that adheres to the meat. Both versions can be fantastic. For an extra-puffy crust, brush the cutlets with vodka before breading them. The volatility of the alcohol produces steam that inflates the schnitzel as it fries. (Water or white vinegar will also work if you want to avoid using alcohol.) If you prefer a crust that adheres more closely to the meat, whack the cutlets with the back of a knife a few times after pounding them in Step 3 to create an uneven surface texture; dry the meat well on paper towels, and skip the vodka coating in Step 5.
- Serves: 4 persons
- 4kaiser rolls, 12 slices hearty sandwich bread or 12 ounces store-bought plain bread crumbs (about 3 cups/340 grams); see Note
- 4boneless, center-cut pork loin chops, about 1/2-inch thick (4 to 5 ounces each), fat mostly trimmed (see Note)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 2cups/about 280 grams all-purpose flour
- 4to 5 large eggs, beaten with a fork just until roughly homogenous
- ¼cup/60 milliliters 80-proof vodka
- 2pounds lard or clarified butter, or 1 quart oil (see Note)
- Lemon wedges, lingonberry jam or cranberry sauce, for serving
Step 1With a chef’s knife, cut the bread (including the crusts) into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes and spread on a baking sheet in a single layer. Set them out overnight until completely dry. Alternatively, place the baking sheet in a 200-degree oven until the bread is completely dry but not browned at all, turning and stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Transfer dried bread to a mini chopper or food processor, and process until as fine as possible, about 1 minute.
Step 2Transfer bread crumbs to a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl. Sift the fine crumbs into the bowl, leaving behind coarser crumbs. Discard the coarse crumbs, or process and sift again. (You can repeat this several times, but there are diminishing returns.)
Step 3Working one at a time, place a cutlet between two sheets of parchment paper or in a heavy-duty zip-top bag. Pound with a flat mallet or the bottom of a skillet or saucepan, aiming at the thickest parts with the heel of the pan. The goal is to stretch the pork cutlets to about four times their original surface area (twice as wide, twice as long) with about 1/8-inch thickness. Do not pound so aggressively that the meat tears or frays. Transfer to a large plate or tray, season lightly with salt and pepper, and repeat with remaining cutlets.
Step 4When ready to cook, heat oven to 225 degrees. Set up a breading station next to the stove with four rimmed baking sheets or dishes large enough to fit one cutlet with plenty of space around it. Leave the one farthest from the stove empty, add flour to the second, beaten eggs to the third, and the bread crumbs to the one closest to the stove. (It will seem like too many bread crumbs, and that is OK.)
Step 5Add the vodka to a small bowl. Nearby, have a pastry brush, a clean kitchen towel, a timer, a large fork or thin slotted spatula, a large plate lined with paper towels, extra paper towels, a cooling rack set in a rimmed sheet pan, a fine-mesh fat skimmer in a small saucepan or heatproof bowl, and an instant-read thermometer.
Step 6When ready to cook, heat the lard in a large wok, Dutch oven or deep, steep-walled sauté pan over medium-high until it registers 375 to 400 degrees on the instant-read thermometer. Adjust flame to maintain that temperature throughout the cooking process.
Step 7Working one at a time, place a cutlet in the empty rimmed baking sheet. Brush the meat with vodka, completely covering both sides with a thin layer. Immediately transfer the cutlet to the flour. Gently shake the baking sheet. Then, using your fingertips, pick up the cutlet from one edge and flip it over. Shake the baking sheet again to coat the second side with flour. Pick up the cutlet with your fingertips, shake gently to knock off excess flour, then inspect to ensure that there is a thin, even layer of flour across the whole cutlet. If necessary, re-dredge it to cover up any un-floured spots, but be careful not to fold the cutlet, which can cause the flour to bunch.
Step 8Lay the cutlet onto the eggs. Shake the baking sheet gently. Using your fingertips, pick up the cutlet from one edge and flip it over. Pick up the cutlet with your fingertips, allowing excess egg to drain for a few seconds, then inspect to ensure that the cutlet is thoroughly coated. If necessary, dip the cutlet back into the egg to cover any dry spots.
Step 9Transfer the cutlet to the bread crumbs. Using your fingers, scoop crumbs from around the cutlet and pile them on top, completely covering the cutlet. Do not press on the crumbs or cutlet at any point. Shake the baking sheet for a few seconds. Then, using your fingertips, pick up the cutlet from one edge, flip it, and return it to the bread crumbs. Shake the baking sheet, then pick up the cutlet with your fingertips and gently shake off excess crumbs, being careful not to fold or crease the cutlet.
Step 10Carefully lay the cutlet onto the hot fat, starting near you and draping it away from you to avoid accidentally splashing yourself with hot oil. As fast as you can, wipe your fingers clean on the kitchen towel. Then, start swirling the pan, allowing the fat to splash over and around the cutlet for exactly 30 seconds. Using the fork or a thin, slotted spatula, pick up the cutlet from one edge and carefully flip it, being careful not to splash hot fat. Continue to cook, swirling. The cutlet should start to puff and inflate. Keep cooking while swirling until the cutlet is golden brown and crisp, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
Step 11Using the fork or slotted spatula, pick up the cutlet from one edge and transfer to the paper towel-lined plate. Blot the top very gently with an extra paper towel, then transfer to the rack on the rimmed baking sheet and transfer to the oven to keep warm. Use the fine-mesh strainer to skim off the foam and remove as many stray bread crumbs from the fat as possible.
Step 12Reheat the fat to 375 to 400 degrees and repeat Steps 7 to 11 for the remaining cutlets.
Step 13Serve cutlets immediately with lemon wedges, lingonberry jam or cranberry sauce.