One of the most classic Polish dishes that I enjoy preparing often is the kotlet schabowy, or breaded pork cutlet. You might know it by some of its other names, like the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel (more often made with veal, rather than pork), or the Italian milanese, though this type of preparation is most often done with chicken. While these are the most well-known varieties, almost every country and culinary culture has a similar dish in its repertoire.
The simplicity of the breaded cutlet is deceiving, but it doesn’t take a culinary master to put this dish together. All you need is a bit of control over your pan and a little prep work. Let’s take a look at the various components:
The pork. Pork loin cutlets can be purchased pre-sliced at almost any supermarket. They usually come in a “standard” thickness (roughly ½”) and a “thin sliced” variety (about ¼” or less). If you like your cutlets more “bready,” you’ll want to get the thinner ones, and for more “meaty” cutlets, opt for the thicker cut. Once you get your cutlets home, use a mallet with small indentations to pound the meat until it’s about 1.5 to 2.5 times the size of when you started. It should be as uniform in thickness as possible for even cooking. I will also salt the cutlets at this point with some garlic salt.
The stations. On their way to the hot pan, the cutlets need to travel through three stations. The first station consists of all-purpose flour. Pressing down on the cutlets until they’re evenly coated ensures that everything down the line will stick. Station #2 are lightly beaten eggs to which I add a splash of milk. Once dunked, you’ll want to hold the cutlets vertically to let any egg clumps drain off the meat. The final station are the bread crumbs–I use regular or Italian, depending on what I have at home. If everything stuck on properly down the line, you should end up with a perfect, even coating of crumbs.
The pan. The actual cooking process is probably the most tricky affair of the entire night, and you’ll need to experiment with what works on your heat and in your pan type. If the olive oil is too cold, the cutlets will soak and cook too slowly. If it’s too hot, you risk burning the coating before the meat is done. The perfect temperature will produce an even golden brown crust that melts in your mouth.
The toppings. There are no toppings. Polish cooking keeps things simple, and this is no exception–finished cutlets are usually served as-is. They are typically paired with potatoes (I like them either boiled or mashed) and with a cold shredded salad that most closely approximates coleslaw in the U.S. This is normal of Polish dinner dishes, which are almost always served with a starch and salad simultaneously with the main protein.
If you have a chance to try this dish, I hope you enjoy it. I’ve made it twice this week, and it’s been a big hit every time. Smacznego!
Photo by scaredy_kat