Not Your Bubbe’s Recipe: Chicken Schnitzel
A fresh, healthier take on schnitzel that proves the breaded Ashkenazi dish doesn’t have to be tasteless and rubbery Read More
When I was 14, I went on a Young Judea Israel trip. In a land of bountiful produce and a variety of culinary influences, we ate one thing every day for six weeks: schnitzel. We ate so much, in fact, that our neon-orange group T-shirt (this was before Gush Katif forever gave the color a new meaning in 2005) at the end of the summer read: “Green Eggs & Schnitzel,” because we didn’t want to eat it in a box, or with a fox, or on a train, or in the rain …
At its root, schnitzel is a thinly pounded, boneless meat, dipped in egg and bread crumbs, and then pan-fried. Let’s be honest—it’s a chicken finger. A traditional Austrian dish, wiener schnitzel was typically made with veal, but is now more often pork.
When Ashkenazi Jews immigrated to Israel, schnitzel came, too. Because most Israelis did not have ovens in the early years of the state and since veal and beef were largely unavailable, government-subsidized chicken and turkey schnitzel quickly became national staples. As my tour bus discovered, chicken schnitzel is now one of the cheapest, quickest, and blandest meals you can get. Where shawarma has spices and retains its moisture, you’re lucky if your schnitzel has some paprika or sesame seeds sprinkled on top. It’s usually dry or, worse, still frozen in the middle.
But this problem goes beyond tour bus meals. A classic Eastern European dish, it is one of those ubiquitous foods at Ashkenazi dinner tables, later shoved into freezers and stock-piled to prevent a future famine. It’s a favorite for Shabbat lunch, where the rubbery remains can be served at lukewarm temperatures and pass as edible. At many yeshivot around the world, schnitzel is a matter-of-course way to feed students. I remember my cousin visiting from his yeshiva in Queens with reports of, “Sunday through Friday: schnitzel and kugel. Shabbat: cholent, schnitzel, and kugel.” One yeshiva in Israel even has a “schnitzel machine.”
Taking a cue from another breaded veal dish, piccata, here is a schnitzel recipe with a bit more flavor and a lot more juice, so that it can still be sort of moist when you serve it at room temperature the next day.
Like anything else, making good schnitzel is all about good ingredients. Good schnitzel is often ruined by old oil—I’m guessing the schnitzel machine is guilty of this. Changing out oil as you use it is important for preserving flavor and your health. It also will help you control the temperature so that the chicken is frying in oil that is neither too hot that it will burn nor too warm that it will just soak up the oil.
The other key piece here: lemon juice. Acids like citrus and vinegar are an incredibly powerful way to add flavor without needing a lot of spices or salt. And in this case, it kills two birds (no pun intended) by providing flavor and moisture to a dish that definitely needs it.
Not Your Bubbe’s Schnitzel
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¾ cup lemon juice
2 large eggs
2 cups whole wheat matzah meal or bread crumbs of choice
¼ – 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
½ cup white cooking wine or dry white wine (optional)
2 tablespoons capers (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Meat tenderizer, mallet, or rolling pin
Wax or parchment paper
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Place the chicken, one breast at a time, between two pieces of parchment or wax paper. Using a meat tenderizer, gently, but firmly, flatten the chicken until it is about ¼ inch thick.
3. Sprinkle each piece with a small pinch of salt. Layer the chicken in a casserole dish and cover with about ¼ – 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Let it marinate for about 10 minutes.
4. Over medium-high heat, heat enough oil in a saute pan that it will come halfway up each piece of chicken.
5. Beat two eggs into a bowl. In a separate bowl, season the matzah meal or breadcrumbs with a dash of salt and pepper.
6. Dip the chicken breasts into a bowl of beaten eggs. Then, transfer the chicken into a bowl with the breadcrumbs, thoroughly coating all sides of the chicken and shaking it gently to get rid of any loose pieces.
7. Place the chicken into the hot oil, allowing it to brown on both sides. As each pieces finishes browning, place it in a baking pan.
8. (Optional: Once all of the chicken is cooked, remove the excess oil. Without cleaning the pan, add the remaining lemon juice, capers, and white wine to the pan. Bring the liquids to a boil for about 1 minute, allowing it to reduce and thicken. Pour the sauce over the chicken.)
9. Bake the schnitzel for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.