Out of the few resolutions I made in January, cooking a proper meal once a month is the only one that’s stuck. I’m not going to bed 15 minutes earlier, and I’m not taking shorter showers to be less rushed on work mornings. I’m not surprised. Cooking is a pleasurable me-time activity. The other two are both related to a denial about having to give up me time. But it’s still laughable rather than laudable that a girl in her mid 30s has to resolve to cook properly for herself. I think I only do it with little shame because I live in a city where not cooking is practically the norm.
So, March. Frying. I have dreams of deep frying at home one day, but as I’m very afraid of fire, dreams they may stay. Pan frying is not as scary, and it gave me a chance to break in the All-Clad tri-ply stainless steel pan I bought with Christmas money. (Is it also laughable that a girl in her mid 30s still gets Christmas money from mom?) With some encouragement from a friend, I decided to go with wiener/veal schnitzel. And, yes, I strategically placed this post after my adventures in well-fried pork katsu to reinforce the amateur hour nature of my cooking experiments.
I have been reading Felicity Cloake’s “How to make the perfect…” column in The Guardian for a while now, and I thoroughly enjoy all her trials of various quintessential recipes. The best part is learning just how different experienced chefs will prepare classic dishes. That is, it’s fun to see just how unclassic the classics are. Her version of wiener schnitzel was straightforward enough that I wasn’t too intimidated. My main concerns were that the oil would not be hot enough or that I would overcook the meat (my perennial meat cooking fear). I decided to consult Melissa Clark’s pork schnitzel recipe as well, as she makes everything seem so easy. I watch her New York Times videos religiously on Friday afternoons, pretending that one day I will cook as effortlessly as her.
Lucky for me a grocery store down the street sells veal cutlets already pounded thin, so the real annoying part of the recipe was done for me. Hooray! Proper schnitzel is made with breadcrumbs, but Melissa’s recipe uses panko. I didn’t want to put the effort into making my own breadcrumbs and buying them just seems wrong to me. Buying panko on the other hand seems less wrong, even though it’s a similar product. I feel less guilty buying/using panko because I’ve never heard of anyone making homemade panko. Felicity didn’t like Melissa’s panko crust in her column, but I was willing to place my trust in Melissa.
I shouldn’t have. The panko was too heavy of a breading. Now, I haven’t eaten tons of schnitzel, but I wanted mine to have a light, crisp crust that would indicate that I fried it properly and perhaps even did the swirling of the oil over the meat correctly—the technique for getting that airy, rippled crust that schnitzel is known for. My schnitzel was crispy, hold your applause, but I worry that it darkened too much (oil too hot?) and that the crust was a bit heavy. It wasn’t horribly greasy, but I wonder if the panko held on to more oil than breadcrumbs would have because of the larger crumb size. Anyone? Thankfully, it was not heavy enough to fall off. Or maybe that means that I did something right when dredging and cooking. The veal was tender, and it tasted just fine.
To round out the meal, I pulled out my mandoline and made Melissa’s quick cucumber salad. I do like German potato salad, but as the weather was cold when I made this, I wanted something a bit heartier. Spaetzle? Mark Bittman published a terribly easy recipe that’s more dumpling than tiny noodle, but who cares because they were fantastic. I won’t see any wrong in pillows of dough fried in butter. I made the dumplings in the afternoon, put them in the fridge, then fried them at the last minute when the schnitzel was resting. Spaghetti and butter always wins for my emotional eating, but I think next time my feelings are in the gutter, I’m making Mark’s dumplings.
The real takeaway is that frying in my apartment is a very very bad idea. A tiny space and no exhaust hood meant that everything smelled like schnitzel for days. A dish of vinegar left out overnight can help lingering kitchen smells, but it doesn’t help get the smell out of my pillow.
Dreams they will stay.