“I can’t wait to go to Italy. Chicken parmesan is my favorite food ever. I’m going to eat sooo much chicken parmesan when I’m in Italy!”
Hmm… not quite. This remark was said to me a couple of years ago by a college classmate who was preparing for a summer vacation in Italy. I kindly explained to her that she would never find chicken parmesan anywhere in Italy, but that she would surely try lots of other actual Italian dishes that would be much better. She did not take the news well.
Being raised in a family with Italian grandparents and then later living in Italy has taught me that real, authentic Italian food and Italian-American food (or rather food that is perceived as Italian by most Americans) are two completely separate cuisines. The influx of Italian immigrants to the U.S made the presence of Italian food more prominent in the U.S, and with time, Italian food evolved into a whole culinary tradition. Dishes like chicken parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs, and pepperoni pizza differ greatly from anything that falls within the realm of authentic Italian food, where ingredients are fresher, portions are smaller, and the overall dish is simpler. Real Italian food means cooking pasta until it is al dente, never serving seafood with cheese, and that peperoni are bell peppers, not a type of sausage. In short, it is miles away from the Olive Garden.
So, let’s get to today’s post. While there is of course nothing wrong with Italian-American cuisine, I have found that there is almost always an Italian dish that can step in if you’re looking to eat authentic Italian food. If you like Italian American fettuccine alfredo, there is the equally creamy and decadent, cacio e pepe*. If you’re in the mood for spaghetti and meatballs, you will find Bolognese ragù just as satisfying. And to my friend who was hoping to eat chicken parmesan, I suggested cotolette alla milanese.
This classic Milanese dish is a breaded veal cutlet fried in butter. It’s a crisp, battered, cutlet (just like chicken parmesan) but pared down, letting the cutlet itself shine rather than be covered up by cheese and tomato sauce. It is simple, delicious, and a great addition to your weeknight recipe rotation.
A couple of notes to get the best possible dish here: don’t season the meat with salt until after it has been breaded and fried, as the salt will making the coating fall of during the cooking process. Make sure you pan fry the cutlets on medium heat, as too cool of a pan will result in a soggy breadcrumb coating, and too hot will burn. Enjoy!
- 6 veal cutlets*
- 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 extra-large eggs
- 2 cups cups plain dry bread crumbs
- Butter, for frying
- Lemon wedges
Pour the flour on to a dinner plate and combine with a pinch of salt. On a second plate, beat the eggs. Pour the breadcrumbs onto the third plate. Coat the veal cutlets on both sides with the flour mixture, then dip both sides into the egg mixture and dredge both sides in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing lightly.
Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan and cook 2 cutlets at a time on medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Add more butter and cook the rest of the veal cutlets. Season the cotolette with salt and serve hot with lemon wedges. Sautéed spinach or roasted potatoes are good side dishes here. Serves 6.
*Note that you can also use veal chops pounded thin in this recipe – in Milan you will see this dish prepared both ways.