Schnitzel, schmitzel – who knew?

I grew up in Austria, and for me real comfort food is Wiener Schnitzel.

Wiener Schnitzel and mashed potatoes because it reminds me of my youth…

It reminds me when I grow up and it feels very comforting.

Wolfgang Puck

Tilly: I know this is what he said, but it doesn’t make sense …


The research of the origins of Schnitzel will make any normal human being go crazy.  It is the national dish of Austria with a very specific recipe. It has to be made with Veal. So just where did Schnitzel originate. Well, welcome to “who the hell really knows?” Keep reading and you can make up your own mind.

Some historians believe the recipe was brought to Austria via General Joseph Graf Radetzky, who brought the recipe in from Northern Italy.

So where did the northern Italians get the recipe? Wait for it: ancient Rome, yep that damn Apicius fellow. When the Roman army traveled north to conquer Europe they took recipes with them and adapted them to the area they conquered, such as northern Italy. Evidence indicates schnitzel-type foods which were veal based were served in the Medieval and Renaissance eras, central Europe and Northern Italy, particularly around the Milan region.

Tilly: Did you know there is a Schnitzel Popsocket?

Tilly: And a Schnitzel Squad Funny German Quotes T-Shirt!

Schnitzel was originally taken from Europe to Israel by Ashkenazi Jews—an instant hit . During the early years of the state of Israel, veal was not widely available, so substituted chicken or turkey.

Schnitzel is generally made from either chicken or pork, except in Austria where it has to be made with veal and is called Weiner Schnitzel. It is the law in Austria. So just what is that infamous recipe? 400 g veal (preferably top round) cutlets (approx. for 2 servings)

2 eggs, 1 cup all-purpose flour,1 cup breadcrumbs, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, Slices of lemon to garnish, Parsley and butter (optional for garnish), Enough vegetable oil and/or clarified butter for deep frying. Just be careful not to make the oil or clarified butter too hot, or it will burn rather fast; if it is not hot enough will cause the breadcrumbs soak up the fat and will not have that crisp crust everyone enjoys.

In Hungary, it is called Becsi szelet or rantott hus (breaded meat). In the Czech Republic it is known as samzeny rizek and is made with pork or chicken.

Tilly: I bet readers really want to know about vegetarian schnitzel, made with tofu, or aubergine, or cheese or a slice of cauliflower …

So just when did Schnitzel come to America? Well, I will have to find Mary Randolph’s phone number and call her to find out. But she did publish her recipe: Virginia Housewife, 1838 Mary Randolph.


Cut off the flank and take the bone out, then take slices the size of the fillet and half an inch thick, beat two yolks of eggs light, and have some grated bread mixed with pepper, salt, pounded nutmeg and chopped parsley; beat the slices a little, lay them on a board

and wash the upper side with the egg cover it thick with the bread crumbs, press them on with a knife, and let them stand to dry a little, that they may not fall off in frying, then turn them gently, put egg and crumbs on in the same manner, put them into a pan

of boiling lard, and fry them a light brown; have some good gravy ready, season it with a tea-spoonful of curry powder, a large one of wine, and one of lemon pickle, thicken with butter and brown flour, drain every drop of lard from the culets, lay them in the gravy, and stew them fifteen or twenty minutes; serve them up garnished with lemon cut in thin slices*

Tilly: Ummmm … ‘large one of wine’ – large teaspoon? Gulp. What’s wrong with a large glass of wine!

So, what else did the Americans do with this recipe? Well, come up to date and we call it Chicken Fried Steak, no breadcrumbs are used, just beef cube steaks, pounded thin, dipped in egg and seasoned flour and fried and served with a gravy.

Tilly: Why not simply call it fried steak?

For me personally, after living in German for a number of years I definitely prefer the German way of making schnitzel served with a brown mushroom gravy, that has just a bit of sour cream added.

I make mine, a quick Italian way, chicken or pork pounded until thin, dipped in egg then breadcrumbs, allowed to dry for a few minutes before it’s fried in a mixture of butter and olive oil. But when it hits me, Tilly: OMG – please tell me you are not a victim of culinary abuse!

I go back to the old German farmer’s wife method: pork, pounded thin, dipped in flour then egg then bread crumbs, allowed to rest a minute or two, then fried in butter and olive oil, served with a true mushroom gravy and potatoes. Every time I make it I am transported to those days of living in Germany and working alongside some of those farmers’ wives.

Tilly: Is this sacrilege?: ‘A miracle has occurred in wildest Suffolk! We had all the ingredients for Yotam Ottolenghi’s tahini chicken schnitzel (Feast, 7 March). It was delicious. – Rosie Eliot, Rumburgh, Suffolk

If you have never tried making schnitzel, please do Olive and Tilly a favor, give it a try.

Tilly: In truth, I’d like the veal, pork or chicken cooked with the spices and accompaniments and I’d forgo the breadcrumb lark. Sorry. I’m applying to be a graduate of the school of philistines … and where’s the garlic!

Your family will love it.

Olive and Tilly

Tilly: I’m with James Ellroy :

All I want to do is make serious movies that explore social issues and turn a profit, and slip the schnitzel to Jane DePugh.’

 But I am now wondering if this is a double entendre … and not suitable for a high class article such as ours!


  • Sebestiana

    Please, Calm down Ladies! To each his own on their culinary journey. I still think that garlic is a fine choice for the gravy and added to the meat. Not everyone has a finely tuned pallet. 😄😄😄
    The joke is intended.

  • Jerry Bell

    I have always loved schnitzel, but I never new its history. I didn’t even connect schnitzel with chicken fried steak. I don’t know why. The simalarities are there. Thank you for letting us in on the history.
    As always, after reading your blog, I’m ravenous.

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