Can You Schnitzel? Should You Schnitzel? Yes and Yes!
Schnitzel is, without a doubt, one of my favorite foods. This fancy German name for a breaded cutlet can be chicken, pork, or veal, pounded thin or left with some heft, served classically with buttery spaetzle or vinegared potato salad, and a squeeze of lemon. A perfect schnitzel is golden brown and crispy on the outside, tender and juicy within. There is some debate over whether a great schnitzel has an air pocket between meat and coating, and frankly, I think there is room for both styles in terms of enjoyment, but my favorite has a coating that is stuck firmly to the meat for optimal balance of crunchy exterior to perfectly cooked protein.
For a long time, I left schnitzeling to the pros, assuming that getting the perfect coating and non-greasy fry was something that was a restaurant indulgence only. But when a chef pal gave me some tips and tricks, I found myself actually enjoying the process of making schnitzel from scratch. And I think you will too. Welcome to Schnitzel 101!
Which meats to use when making schnitzel
Chicken, pork, and veal are all great choices for schnitzel—the key is in the prep. No matter what the meat, your goal is to begin with an even thickness in each piece so that it cooks evenly and you don't end up with any over- or undercooked parts.
This means either butterflying thicker cuts, like boneless breasts of chicken or pork tenderloins, and/or pounding to make the meat the thickness you want all the way across. Some folks like their proteins very thin (around a ¼ inch), but I prefer mine with a little bit of heft to balance the coating, so I shoot for about ½-inch thick.
Once your chosen protein is the thickness you want, season it well with salt and pepper and set aside on a rack over a sheet pan for 5-10 minutes. This will draw some of the natural juices to the surface, where they will dry slightly and get a bit tacky, which will help the coating adhere!
How to create coating for making schnitzel
To make the coating for schnitzel, I use a standard 3-step method: Light dredge of flour, dip in egg wash, then coat in fine, plain breadcrumbs (or panko, or even cracker crumbs if you prefer). I like to season both my flour and breadcrumbs with salt and pepper, but that's optional.
Depending on the size of your prepped meat, you will need between:
- 1/2-1 egg per person
- 1/8-1/4 cup of flour
- 1/4-1/3 cup of breadcrumbs
If you are doing plate-sized wiener schnitzels or large pork tenderloin schnitzels, go on the upper end of that scale; chicken thighs, breasts, or smaller scallopine-sized portions will need less.
For each egg whisk in ½ tablespoon of water to help break it up and make it thinner for easier coating. Keep one hand for dry ingredients, one for wet. Drop a piece of meat in the flour, turn to coat, and then shake off the excess. Run lightly through the egg wash, just to thinly coat then drop into the breadcrumbs. Coat well, pressing on the crumbs to adhere, and then set the coated cutlets back on the rack over the sheet pan and transfer, uncovered, to the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.
How to cook schnitzel
1. Heat your oven to 200° and put a clean rack over a sheet pan.
2. Put about a half-inch of a neutral oil with a high smoke point (avocado, peanut, or grapeseed) in the bottom of a large, wide skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers and a pinch of breadcrumbs dropped in turn brown immediately and fizzle energetically.
3. Slide in your cutlets, being sure to keep your hand close to the oil and dropping gently away from you to prevent splashing. Fit as many cutlets as will fit in your pan without touching each other or crowding. Cook 2-4 minutes per side depending on thickness of meat. You want the schnitzel to be evenly golden brown on both sides. Once the schnitzel is done, transfer carefully from the oil to the rack, sprinkle lightly with flaky salt and put the pan in the oven to hold while you continue to cook the rest of your schnitzels. (If you are doing large batches, you may need to add more oil.)
Serve hot with lemon wedges.