By John DeMers
All this month of Oktoberfest here and around the world, schnitzel will be celebrated as a uniquely German dish – except it was actually launched in Austria and now can be found not only in the United States but as “local food” in places as bizarrely dissimilar as Sweden, Brazil, France, Italy, Israel, Hungary, Iran, Namibia, Korea and Mexico.
In most countries it’s known by some name resembling schnitzel. Yet perhaps the worst insult to the alleged German roots comes from Mexico, where somehow the dish gained popularity as milanesa – a clear doff of the sombrero to Italy’s version, cotoletta alla Milanese, meaning in the style of Milan.
There is no direct or specific history on the day schnitzel was born, a situation shared with most iconic foods. Yet there is clear evidence the technique of pounding pieces of veal, pork or chicken into thin “cultlets” (for that’s what schnitzel means) is associated with Vienna longer than with anyplace else. It’s not for nothing that the best-known rendition comes to us as Wiener schnitzel. It took some rewriting of history, plenty of delicious jaegerschnitzel and an unfortunate association with hot dogs to convince us to forget what the word “Wiener” really means.
At our Culinary Adventure Cooking School, we’ve been teaching visitors, and no small number of locals, how to make jaegerschnitzel since Day One. Our reviews have been excellent, even though some local Germans insist ours isn’t 100% authentic – according to their beloved late grandmother, at least. Others have reported simply that, despite their local roots and German surname, they grew up in the Hill Country eating every bit as much rural Texas and even Tex-Mex food as schnitzel, sauerkraut and strudel.
Like any other kind of schnitzel, jaegerschnitzel came into German cooking with mixed parentage, to say the least. The first half of the word is, of course, German for “hunter,” which along with the early tendency to make schnitzel with venison and wild bar, points to a traditional association with fall and winter game hunting. All the same, the recipe seems to borrow at will from Europe’s larger traditions of hunter-style dishes, all using some mix of meat stock, mushrooms, tomato and lots of red wine. Wine was embraced for the most logical of reasons: marinating took all or most of the “gaminess” out of the freshly-killed meat.
In France and Italy, this basic technique also became known as “hunter-style.” This became “chasseur” in French. Yet the name in Italian takes even more detours. Today, after more than a century of Italian-American restaurants, we know an oversimplied version as “cacciatore,” or more grammatically “alla cacciatore.” The record, however, is clear. The real name of chicken and other variations is “alla cacciatora” – hunter’s WIFE’S chicken. We definitely think all the hunters’ wives out there should demand equal time.
As many around here know from history, or at least from Jaegermeister, Jaeger means “hunter” in German. And while a lot of dishes in rustic times probably got the name, it has mostly attached itself to a delicious schnitzel served with mushroom gravy. This is the recipe we teach at the Culinary Adventure Cooking School.
1 (1 ½ pound) pork loin, cut into 6-ounce slices
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
½ cup milk
2 teaspoons Fischer & Wieser Brat Haus Beer Mustard
1 cup breadcrumbs
½ pound bacon, diced
½ cup diced yellow onion
2 cups sliced button mushrooms
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup Mom’s brand Special Marinara
1/2 cup red wine
Olive oil for frying
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Between pieces of plastic wrap, pound the pork slices till they are ¼ inch thick. Mix the flour in a bowl with the flour and seasonings. In a separate bowl, combine the egg with the milk and mustard. Place the breadcrumbs in a third bowl. Take each pork slice and dredge in the flour, shaking off excess, then coating in the egg mixture and finally covering with crumbs. Set on a baking sheet until all pork is ready for cooking.
Cook the bacon until crisp in a large pan and drain on paper towels. Crumble the bacon. Use the bacon grease to lightly caramelize the onion, then stir in the mushrooms and red bell pepper. Cook until tender. Add the Special Marinara and wine and cook until reduced and thickened, then add the beef stock and reduce again. Add the crumbled bacon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook the pork evenly, about 5 minutes on the first side then 3-4 minutes on the second, until golden brown. Remove pork to a platter. Stir butter into the sauce until it’s melted. Cover pork schnitzels with sauce and serve sprinkled with parsley. Serves 4-6.