What do you think is one of Germany’s most popular and diverse traditional dishes? If you come up with chops also known as Schnitzel, you are right. Schnitzel (pronounced ‘shnitsal) simply means “small cut” or “small slice”, but some of you might even have seen “Tellerschnitzel”, plate-sized ones. It always depends on how elegant or rustic you decide your meal to be.
Schnitzel can come from all kinds of meats: veal, pork, turkey, chicken, even ostrich. It is usually tenderized; if breaded, it is first floured (I season mine), then egged, then covered with breadcrumbs. This creates a wavy, crispy crust while slowly frying to a golden shade. There are regional differences as to whether you bread your Schnitzel when serving it with a sauce/gravy or not. None is incorrect. It’s a matter of taste.
It’s not a matter of taste though when it comes to a Wiener Schnitzel. A staple of the Viennese cuisine, this cut has to be veal and nothing else; actually, the name is protected in Germany and in Austria and guarantees you the real deal. If you have ever tasted it, you will know the difference between a Wiener Schnitzel and a Schnitzel Wiener Art (i.e. Viennese style); the latter is usually the much cheaper pork variety. Veal is totally different in texture and flavor. A Wiener Schnitzel also is usually served with an anchovy, capers, a slice of lemon, a green salad, and potatoes.
Mushroom fans will love a Jaegerschnitzel (hunter’s Schnitzel). A Schnitzel gypsy-style or, today politically correct, a Paprika-Schnitzel comes with a bell pepper sauce. You will easily have guessed that a Swiss Schnitzel is baked over with a slice of Swiss cheese. Whereas a Rahmschnitzel (pronounce ‘ruhm-shnitsal) is served with a cream sauce. A Schnitzel Munich style will have a crust of horseradish and mustard, whereas a Parisian Schnitzel will be egg-battered only. You have all kinds of potato sides along with a Schnitzel – potato salad, French fries, croquettes, boiled potatoes topped with parsley, pan-fried potatoes. When served with gravy, certain regions prefer spaetzle as a side. You can dish herb butter, mustard sauce, or peppercorn gravy with Schnitzel. If unbreaded, you may pan-fry or grill it. Your imagination as to sides and flavors is the limit.
There are two Schnitzel that are standing out because one is named for a person, the other one for its ranking in the world of pans and griddles. Schnitzel Holstein is a variant of the Wiener Schnitzel and named for the Prussian privy councilor Baron Friedrich von Holstein (1837-1909). A feared and despised schemer, he is rumored to have contributed to German Reich Chancellor von Bismarck’s overthrow. But as a gourmet, he is also credited to have revealed his Schnitzel composition to an executive chef of the famous Restaurant Borchardt in Berlin: a veal chop served with a fried egg sunny side up, anchovies, capers, sardines, salmon, and caviar as well as sides of sautéed mushrooms, green beans, and pan-fried potatoes.
The so-called Cordon bleu is also a Wiener Schnitzel, i.e. a veal chop, but sandwiches each a slice of boiled or hot-smoked ham and Swiss cheese. The recipe has appeared first in Switzerland in the 1940s and might have been the winner in a cooking competition, therefore named “Blue Ribbon”. But why a blue ribbon for any winner? I own a beautiful cookbook that tells all sorts of anecdotes about recipes, and here is the one for Cordon bleu, the Blue Ribbon. Originally the French Order of the Knights of the Holy Grail wore blue ribbons (and my guess is that’s because blue used to be the religious color symbol for Heaven). King Louis XV of France, known for his extravagant lifestyle and his mistress, Duchess Dubarry, awarded such a blue ribbon to his lover’s cook. Ever since, a female chef who has been trained by an executive chef, has allegedly been called a cordon bleu. The Larousse Gastronomique, a culinary dictionary, names a different knight order and a different king without the juicy anecdote. So, who knows … Allegedly chefs used to wear blue ribbons on their aprons; I’d rather not try and figure how that ribbon could have made it into the Schnitzel.
In the end, I can’t even say what’s my favorite Schnitzel. I guess it depends on my flavor of the day. In the end it all amounts to: Beat it, fry it, eat it …