Growing up in The Coal Region as a child of the 60’s, one hard and fast rule was that my family ate meals together. Whether Sunday dinner or weeknight supper, everyone who lived in our household gathered around the well-worn chrome and Formica kitchen table and perched on vinyl covered chairs.
My Nana and Mom turned out delicious, yet simple and straight-forward food. Growing up in the western end of Schuylkill County meant much of the emphasis was on the Pennsylvania Dutch influences that were well represented in that corner of the county.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed pierogi, halupki, halushky, and bleenies found at church picnics and block parties in towns our travels took us to throughout the county, like Minersville, Shenandoah, and Pottsville, the dinner table in my house more often featured chow chow, chicken pot pie, ham and string beans, shoofly pie and my absolute favorite treat — pork schnitzel (aka breaded, fried pork cutlets).
Although my Mom often shopped on Friday evenings at the local A&P for the whole chicken or chuck roast that would be Sunday dinner, she always got the pork, sausage, and scrapple that found their way to our table from a local butcher. Said butcher appeared, like clockwork, once a week in his red “butcher truck”, slowly descending the hill into town and stopping along the roadside or in an alley for a customer to climb aboard and pick out their order from a glass-front display unit contained within the truck. (There was a bakery truck that made the rounds, too. I used to beg Mom to buy the glazed pretzel-shaped donuts that were packaged in a flat box with a cellophane window in the lid. If I close my eyes right now, I can see, smell, and taste those donuts…)
My Pappy (grandfather) did not much like poultry, so my family ate a lot of ham, sausage, and pork. When I would hear my Mom tell the butcher to package up some boneless pork chops, my mouth would start to water. I knew supper that night would be well worth waiting for.
Mom got boneless center cut chops that were 1/2 inch thick then pounded them down to the desired thickness for breading and frying. She did not have a meat mallet — she used the bottom of a small cast iron frying pan to do the job. Mom always felt that pounding the chops rather than starting with very thin ones helped tenderize the meat and I have kept that philosophy throughout my decades of cooking schnitzel.
In my house, we had one kind of bread crumbs — they were fine, dry, unseasoned and came from the store in a can. Nana and Mom used them for breading everything that needed to be breaded including fried red tomatoes. Panko breadcrumbs never crossed through the doorway to our Coal Region kitchen until I brought the interloper into my inner sanctum not all that long ago. I’m a firm believer in “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” and to me, there’s nothing that needs fixing in this simple, classic way to make schnitzel. And I cannot, at any time when making something breaded and fried, resist adding breadcrumbs to the remaining egg wash to make a “breadcrumb patty” that I fry up and gobble down alongside the main item.
To this day, nothing embraces me with the feeling of comfort quite like a meal of pork schnitzel accompanied by browned butter egg noodles and lettuce with hot bacon dressing. In my mind’s eye, I am transported back to that beloved Coal Region kitchen surrounded by the people who meant so very much to me, sharing the love, laughter and delicious foods of “home”.
What is “schnitzel”?
A schnitzel is a slice of meat usually pounded thin, often breaded, then fried. Breaded schnitzel is popular in many countries. The German word schnitzel (Middle High German: snitzel) is a diminutive of sniz, ‘slice’. The English term schnitzel means in general all types of breaded, fried flat pieces of meat. (Source: Wikipedia)
When pounding your cutlets, sandwich the meat between 2 sheets of plastic wrap or insert into a zip-top bag to minimize splatter/mess. If you feel the pounded cutlets are too wide, cut them in half width-wise.
Use a large frying pan and allow room in the pan for the cutlets to avoid touching. Add enough oil/butter to your frying pan to bring the fat about halfway up the thickness of the breaded cutlet. If frying a large amount, add more fat to the pan as needed. Use a neutral oil like canola. You can skip the butter if you choose, but I always add a little for flavor. Cook the cutlets to golden brown on one side before turning. Adjust heat as necessary.
To help breading stay on and obtain a crisp crust, bread the cutlets, place on a wire rack set over a sheet pan, and refrigerate uncovered for 45 to 60 minutes. You may have to add a minute or two to the frying time to compensate for the cold meat.
The thickness of the pork should be that of the combined thickness of the top and bottom cooked breading to be a “schnitzel”..
Pork Schnitzel (Cutlets)Course: EntreeCuisine: General, Coal Region, PA Dutch, GermanDifficulty: Easy
4 boneless 1/2 inch thick pork chops, approximately 1 pound
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon seasoned salt or table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons milk
Approximately 3/4 cup, or as needed, fine dry plain breadcrumbs (from the grocery store)
3 tablespoons neutral oil like canola oil and 1 Tablespoon butter – for frying. May need more or to adjust.
- Using the flat side of a meat mallet, pound the pork cutlets between two sheets of plastic wrap to the thickness of 1/4 inch. Pound from the center out being careful not to tear the cutlets. Using a sharp paring knife, cut small slits around the edges of the cutlets to prevent curling as they cook.
- Set up a breading station by placing flour, seasoned salt, and pepper together in a shallow bowl or tray; whisk to blend well. Whisk the egg and milk together in another shallow bowl or tray. Place the dry breadcrumbs in a third shallow bowl or tray.
- Dip a cutlet in the seasoned flour mixture, shake off excess. Move the floured cutlet into the egg mixture, flipping to fully coat. Allow excess to drip off then move the cutlet into the breadcrumbs. Move around and flip to fully coat the entire surface. Remove to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and repeat coating steps with remaining cutlets. Refrigerate, uncovered for 45 to 60 minutes to allow breading to set up.
- When ready to fry, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet on medium high heat to approximately 325 to 330F degrees. Work in batches if necessary to avoid over-crowding the pan. Fry the cutlets for 3-4 minutes per side, turning once first side is golden brown. Hold at 190F degrees in the oven on a wire rack if necessary until all cutlets are cooked and ready to serve.:
- Serve as cooked, with a squeeze of fresh lemon, or with the gravy or sauce of your choice