Wiener schnitzel is deceptively simple, but like most such dishes, there is a secret knowledge about how to properly prepare it. Bad weiner schnitzel is cafeteria food, or worse.
At its best, however, this is one of life’s simple joys: The meat is tender and can be cut with a fork. The breading crispy, not greasy, and the squirt of lemon adds that zing the dish needs.
At its core, wiener schnitzel is just a breaded cutlet fried in fat and served simply with lemon, maybe a simple salad, cucumbers or potato salad. It is a blue collar lunch, a slightly more refined rendition of that Southern icon, chicken fried steak.
The trick is in the technique. The cutlet must be very thin, the flour light, the eggs beaten, the breadcrumbs applied with a light hand — and, most importantly, the schnitzel must swim in hot fat. Not oil, fat. Lard is ideal, but clarified butter is fine, as is duck or goose fat. Wiener schnitzel is such a simple recipe that you really ought to use a flavorful fat or you will wonder what all the fuss is about.
If you are in Vienna, wiener schnitzel is made from veal. Period.
Incidentally, if you did not know, the name “wiener schnitzel” has nothing to do with hot dogs or wieners of any other kind… unless you are of course referring to the residents of Vienna, for which this dish is named. It’s actually been called the national dish of Austria, so the Austrians’ love for it goes beyond the capital.
It is very good with veal. But wiener schnitzel is equally good with a pounded pheasant breast, as it is in these pictures. Pounded wild boar cutlets are wonderful, too, as are breasts from partridges or cutlets sliced from wild turkey breasts. It is less successful with dark meats like duck, venison or bear. Still fine, but this dish is really a white meat thing.
If you are not a hunter, make it with veal first and foremost — there is plenty of humanely raised veal out there. Barring that, go for pork loin, then chicken, then turkey.
This recipe is not rocket science. In fact, it’s one of the easiest, fastest, best recipes on the site. It’s a go-to whenever I have lots of pheasant or wild boar around. Just remember, let the schnitzel swim. Use the leftover fat the next morning for your eggs.
- 4 to 8 skinless pheasant breasts or boar loin medallions
- 1 cup flour
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- Enough lard, butter or duck fat to come 1/2 inch up the sides of your frying pan
- Set out a work surface and lay a pheasant breast on a piece of plastic wrap. Lay another piece of plastic wrap over the breast and pat it down to seal. Pound the meat out into a very flat cutlet, about 1/4 inch thick. Take your time, hitting the meat with about the same force as knocking on a door. Work from the center of the meat outward. If you are using pheasant or chicken, you will need to pound the thick end of the breast more than the thin end; pork or veal medallions should be evenly cut. Do one breast at a time. When you are finished with one, remove the top layer of plastic wrap and set it aside. As you finish more, stack them. (Removing the one layer of plastic wrap will make them easier to get off the plastic later.)
- Preheat the oven to 200°F. Place a baking sheet lined with paper towels in the oven; this is for the schnitzels as they come out of the frying pan. Set up a breading station. Put the flour in a large tray, plate or shallow bowl. Do the same for the eggs, and the breadcrumbs. Put the lard or butter in the frying pan and turn the heat to medium-high. You want to fry at a temperature of about 325°F to 350°F.
- When the fat is ready, dredge a cutlet in flour and shake off the excess. Dredge it in egg, then the breadcrumbs. Do not press the breadcrumbs into the meat. Immediately put the breaded cutlet into the hot fat. Shake the pan a little to make sure the schnitzel does not stick to the bottom. The cutlet should float in the hot fat. Repeat quickly with as many cutlets as will fit in your pan.
- Fry the schnitzels until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes. As the first side is cooking, spoon some hot fat over the other side. This will speed up the cooking process. Flip only once. When the schnitzels are done, put them in the oven on the baking sheet and repeat until you're done.