What is Schnitzel?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Schnitzel is a dish in Austrian cuisine, consisting of an escalope, or a thinned, boneless piece of meat, that is breaded and fried. It is often called Wienerschnitzel, meaning "Viennese Schnitzel." In Germany, the dish may only be called Wienerschnitzel if it is made with veal and coated with breadcrumbs. There are other regional versions of the dish, some of which involve stuffing the meat with fillings, such as mushrooms and onions, before it is breaded and fried. It is commonly served with a lemon slice, and with cranberry or lingonberry sauce and potatoes on the side.

Schnitzel is sometimes topped with a fried egg.
Schnitzel is sometimes topped with a fried egg.

The origins of schnitzel are unknown, but it may have originated in Italy, as it is very similar to the Italian dish cotoletta alla milanese. The earliest documentation of the dish in Austria is in the mid 19th century, but it may have been served well before that. Many different cultures have a traditional dish similar to schnitzel.

Chicken cordon bleu is a popular variation of schnitzel.
Chicken cordon bleu is a popular variation of schnitzel.

Schnitzel, like the Italian cotoletta, is traditionally made with veal, but it is sometimes made with pork today. Outside of Austria, chicken and beef schnitzels are also common. A version of the dish is common throughout Central and South America, where it is typically made with beef and called milanese or milanesa. The breaded cutlet may also be served on a sandwich, sometimes topped with a fried egg. Chicken fried steak, a dish of the American South, is possibly a version of schnitzel originating with German and Austrian immigrants in Texas.

The earliest documentation of schnitzel in Austria is in the mid 19th century.
The earliest documentation of schnitzel in Austria is in the mid 19th century.

In Iran and Israel, a version of the dish made with chicken breast is popular. Ashkenazi Jews moving to Israel brought the dish with them from Europe, but veal was not available in the early days of the state of Israel, so chicken or turkey was substituted. Pork is not an option in Israel because of its non-kosher status.

In Australia, a version of the dish made with beef, colloquially called schnitter, is a popular pub food. The dish is also eaten throughout Scandinavian countries, where is is typically served with capers and an anchovy. Some interesting variations on the schnitzel include the Bulgarian version, which uses ground veal instead of a cutlet, and the Romanian mosaic şniţel, made with a vegetable filling layered between two different types of meat. Cordon bleu, made with a thin veal or chicken cutlet stuffed with ham and cheese, is a popular variation worldwide.

The typical schnitzel features a veal cutlet.
The typical schnitzel features a veal cutlet.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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