There’s obvious romance in Italian and French cuisine: Parisian cafes, and Tuscan trattorias awash with Beaujolais and Borolo. The air thick with truffles, tongues teased by silken crème caramel and nights ebbing with each short, bitter sip of Fernet Branca.
Just across the border – in Germany and Austria – the romance stops dead. It’s hard to flirt over sauerkraut and spätzle, or to canoodle over a Knödel.
I don’t think there’s anything more chic than understatement though. France’s haute cuisine and Italy’s candlelit linguine seems so hammed-up next to a utilitarian serving of schlachteplatte. Too twee, too theatrical. Give me a cold glass of Grüner Veltliner or Gewurztraminer, schnitzel and a slab of strudel – and I’m anybody’s.
This style of Bavarian cuisine is often associated with cold weather. It’s fuel on ski slopes, or something to line the stomach before Oktoberfest. There’s no reason why it can’t be eaten year-round though. Head to Fischer’s (Marylebone) to see Viennese cuisine at its most elegant, or try the recipe below and channel your own Bavarian belle époque.
Serves 2 (very generous portions)
500g pork fillet
2 -3 tbsp plain flour
2 handfuls breadcrumbs
For the salad
½ fennel bulb
2 small courgettes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
For the saffron mayonnaise
Pinch of saffron
2 egg yolks
½ garlic clove, crushed
½ tsp Dijon mayonnaise
1. Cut the fillet in half, lengthways (or into three, if you want to make smaller portions). ‘Butterfly’ the pieces of pork by using a sharp knife to score each one lengthways, and then open them up, like a book. Cover with a sheet of clingfilm, and then use a meat mallet (or a rolling pin) to bash them flat. (For more direction, CLICK HERE).
2. Line up three shallow bowls alongside each other. Tip the flour into the first, and then season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tip the egg into the second, and lightly whisk with a fork. Tip the breadcrumbs into the third bowl.
3. Work methodically to ‘schnitzel’ (yes, it is a verb) each piece of pork. One by one, dust them in flour, dunk into the egg wash, and then coat in breadcrumbs. Put them on a chopping board, and refrigerate.
4. Meanwhile, finely slice the fennel, and use a vegetable peeler to cut the courgettes into ribbons. Mix together the olive oil and red wine vinegar, season with a dash of salt and tip the dressing over the vegetables.
5. Cover the saffron strands with warm water. While they are soaking, whisk together the egg yolks, crushed garlic, Dijon mayonnaise and lemon. Add the soaked saffron strands, and then drizzle in the oil very, very slowly, until you have a thick, glossy emulsion.
6. Heat 2/3 of the butter in a large, flat-bottomed frying pan. Once it’s sizzling-hot, add the schnitzels, and cook for 2 minutes, without poking or agitating it. In a single, confident movement flip them over, add the remaining butter to the pan, and cook for a further 1-2 minutes. Move them to a board, slice, and then plate-up, along with the salad and a dollop of mayonnaise.
A NOTE ON BREADCRUMBS
In the photograph above I use a mixture of sourdough crust breadcrumbs and white breadcrumbs. Obviously, the schnitzel crust would look more uniform if I went for just one — but, hey — I was using up leftovers.
Generally, any two-to-three-day old bread, blitzed in a food processor (crusts and all) makes excellent breadcrumbs. They freeze well, and are far more satisfying to use than supermarket-bought breadcrumbs, which are often found in the ambient aisle, and contain all sorts of odd ingredients (turmeric extract, corn starch, palm oil, antioxidants).
A NOTE ON THE SCHNITZEL
Wienerschnitzel is traditionally made from veal. Pork fillet (or pork tenderloin) is easy to get hold of and a cheap, underused cut. The temptation when cooking pork is to aim for a white colour to ensure that it’s ‘cooked through’. By the time it’s white, the meat will be rubbery and ruined. I removed the last piece of the schnitzel in the photograph above, to show the juicy dark pink you’re aiming for, which should be achievable with the timings above.
A NOTE ON THE MAYONNAISE
Damn mayonnaise let me down in this photo. It was thicker than it looks, but clearly not thick enough. No excuse other than my whisking arm was getting tired, and my stomach was rumbling!