Monday, April 13, 2015

Chicken Schnitzel

When I was 10 years old I lived in Jerusalem for a year with my family. While we lived there we ate a LOT of chicken schnitzel (schnitzel is also made from veal, and can be made from any boneless meat that is thinly pounded out). It may not be common knowledge, but schnitzel is one of the most popular dishes in Israel and it is widely served in restaurants, cooked fresh at home, or sold frozen in grocery stores. I really haven't eaten often since then.

But we had been talking about making all winter... The we in this party lived in Berlin for a significant amount of time. During part of that time he lived above a restaurant that specialized in schnitzel, and for that and other reasons has a strong affinity for the dish. Somehow schnitzel-making kept getting postponed... either we didn't feel like something fried, or we didn't feel like meat, or we just didn't feel like schnitzel.

One recent spring day schnitzel finally seemed like the perfect thing to eat for lunch. I had picked up some beautiful asparagus, a really nice fennel bulb, and some arugula. I roasted the asparagus simply: with olive oil salt and pepper at 400°F until tender and just browned. I sliced the fennel super thin on a mandolin; I did the same to the radish and I added them to a pile of wild arugula all tossed together with a lemon vinaigrette.

In Israel I always ate schnitzel plain or with ketchup, but in Germany it is apparently often served with cranberry sauce. This was an exciting discovery for me as I love any excuse to make and eat cranberry sauce, and I always keep a bag of frozen cranberries in my freezer for just this reason. I made a batch and served it along with everything else.

Even though the schnitzel is essentially fried chicken it isn't all that heavy. The thinness of the meat allows for a kind of light crispyness that is satisfying without being a gut bomb. It goes perfectly with a side that is fresh, green and slightly acidic.

I was in Berlin once. It was June and the weather was perfectly sunny and warm. The daylight lasted forever and everywhere Berliners were out and about enjoying the early summer days and nights. One perfect afternoon, I went out to lunch with my dear friend. We drank cool rosé, and he ordered the schnitzel with white asparagus. I ordered something less memorable and gratefully accepted his offer to share his plate of food. Maybe schnitzel is always linked with asparagus for me for that reason... maybe its more linked to that day in Berlin than that year in Israel. Regardless, this plate of food makes me think of spring or early summer when everything is vibrant and new beginnings are on the horizon.

Classic Chicken Schnitzel
Serves 4-6

4 4-5 oz. chicken breasts, pounded to 1/8-1/4-inch thickness
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup all purpose flour (or GF flour, or matzo meal, or almond flour...  any type of flour will work although regular flour is the most traditional)
salt and pepper, to taste
canola, safflower or peanut oil, as needed (to fill the pan about 1/2 of an inch continuously while cooking)
lemon wedges
cranberry sauce, optional (see recipe below)

Using a meat mallet, rolling pin, or the bottom of a cast iron skillet, pound the chicken breasts until they are about 1/8-1/4-inch in thickness. Make sure each piece of chicken is pounded out to the same thickness. Also make sure to pound out the chicken as evenly as possible (so that parts of it aren't thicker than others, otherwise one end could get dry/burnt while the other is undercooked).

Beat the eggs in a deep shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the flour to another deep shallow bowl. Season it with a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.

In a large cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed pan, add a 1/2-inch layer of oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is hot (make sure that it is bubbly and really hot, not luke warm or semi-hot).

Dip the chicken breast one at a time into the eggs first. Shake off any excess egg. Next, dip the chicken into the flour. Shake off any excess flour. Place the coated chicken breast into the hot oil. Repeat with a second chicken breast. Depending on the size of the pan, cook 2 chicken breasts at a time. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side, or until the chicken is golden brown and fully cooked. Make sure the oil stays hot but not super hot. You may have to raise and lower the heat on the stovetop periodically as the schnitzel cooks. Once evenly browned on both sides and cooked through, transfer the schnitzel to a rack and continue the process until all of the chicken is cooked.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges and cranberry sauce if desired.

For the cranberry sauce:
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
Squeeze of orange or tangerine juice (optional)

Place all of the ingredients into a saucepan or pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from stove, allow to cool, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate. The sauce will thicken as it cools. 

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