I guess everyone really does love schnitzel. When I wrote that in my California Cook column this week, I was half-joking. But considering the responses I got from cutlet-hungry readers, I guess the laughs are on me.
The first note I got was from Berlin: Taska Harnischfeger wrote: “I just wanted to let you know that in Germany, as opposed to Austria, your version of the schnitzel [made with pork rather than veal] is standard. If you are at an Austrian restaurant, and you order "Vienna Schnitzel" (Wiener Schnitzel), you will get veal, but most restaurants in Germany offer "Schnitzel, Vienna style" (Schnitzel, Wiener Art), or just plain schnitzel, which is pork. I personally like the pork version better.”
A couple of readers bemoaned the lack of good German restaurants in Southern California since Knoll’s Black Forest Inn closed. “My parents were German and my mother made the dish often,” wrote Ronald Ross of Los Angeles. “During the last 10 years, I have been very sad to see almost all German and for that matter most Continental-style restaurants disappear, the last one being Knolls Black Forest. There used to be many such as the Swiss Cafe, Scandia, the Gourmet, etc.”
A couple more wrote with recommendations:
Peter Rich says Conny Anderson makes a killer schnitzel at his new restaurant AK in Venice. Anita Thomason likes the Chalet Edelweiss in Westchester. And surprise, surprise! So do Stefan and Susi Bachofner … of course, they own it. (It’s near LAX at 8740 Sepulveda Blvd.)
I got a couple of letters from former servicemen who had discovered schnitzel while they were stationed overseas.
“In 1951 I was stationed in Germany on occupation duty and that's where I had my first authentic schnitzel,” wrote Paul Pumpian. “In those days, the American dollar was so strong against the German currency, we were getting 4 that's FOUR marks to the dollar. Needless to say, I ate out often in town, where an excellent entree could be had for two marks. As a $110 a month PFC, I was living large. I soon discovered that Schnitzel Holstein was my all time favorite dish ... the cutlet surrounded by bits of herring, mushrooms and anchovies...and topped by a fried egg.
“No restaurant in the U.S. has ever equaled the taste of a Schnitzel Holstein made on the old Teutonic sod ... and in later years I've tried them in many places -- even Manhattan's Yorkville. The German restaurants made the dish with slight variations of the accouterment, but the egg on top was mandatory. You didn't mention the egg in your column, but I'd suggest you try it, puncture the yolk and allow it to dart with reckless abandon over the meat. The anchovies also contribute a nice flavor change.”
Chuck Leitner went overseas 10 years later, but fell under the schnitzel spell just the same. “When I first went to Germany in 1961 as a U.S. Air Force member, one of the first things we got introduced to was schnitzel. And I grew to love them in all their forms. What you refer to is commonly known as Wiener schnitzel (Viennese schnitzel), a breaded schnitzel made of veal. Not all schnitzel is veal, nor is it all breaded. (In fact, only Wiener schnitzel is breaded, as far as I know). A lot of schnitzel is made of pork …zigeuner schnitzel, rahmschnitzel, bauernschnitzel, and so on. These schnitzels are typically not breaded, but made with sauces of various kinds. One of my favorites (bauern, or farmer's) was made with mushrooms and onions in a brown sauce. Zigeuner (Gypsy) is made with peppers (and maybe onions). Rahm, with a cream sauce (and maybe mushrooms), and so on.”
Other folks offered advice. Jean Ellis says she uses the Styrofoam trays the meat comes in for holding the flour, egg wash and bread crumbs. “They are flat and have a substantial lip to keep stuff from flying all over. You can even whisk the eggs in 'em. They rinse off easily and air dry. They're quite durable, too.”
Bill Utvich wrote to say that he learned about schnitzel from relatives who escaped Germany in the 1930s. “When I want schweineschnitzel, I purchase whole boneless pork loin on sale at Costco or a local market, chill it until it is easy to cut into 1/2-inch thick chops; I don't pound them, I like more meat and less breading, then dip them in flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs, then pan-fry them in bacon fat over medium-high heat!”
Dennis Liu makes his with panko Japanese bread crumbs and sometimes serves it with melted mozzarella and tomato sauce “Voila, instant -- and crispy -- pork/veal/chicken parmesan!”
And David Lassaline in San Diego sent his technique for potato salad: “My spin, learned in my hometown of Detroit, southeast side. (Also known as the bowels of Detroit. A fair description in the 1940's and 50's.) I cook the spuds in the early morning, skins on. Cool and place in fridge for the day. Peel. The potato is firm and will not mush up. Fry some bacon. Chop some celery and onion fine and add to the bacon drippings and cook till tender. Add some flour. Add vinegar, water and sugar. Parsley if available. Celery seed. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the chopped potatoes. Heat through. Yummy!”
Fred Maricle from Norwalk, homesick not for Germany, but Iowa, wrote: “As I read the recipe I thought to myself, this sounds just like what I knew and loved in Iowa over 50 years ago. The only real difference is that it was made as a sandwich on a hamburger bun and was, and still is, called ‘pork tender or pork tenderloin sandwich’. It starts as a pork tenderloin, which is cut in lengths 3/4 to 1 inch long and pounded out and prepared exactly as you described. I fixed myself one last night and it was delicious.”
-- Russ Parsons
Photo credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times