Chicken Schnitzel

When I was 10 years old I lived in Jerusalem for a year with my family. While we lived there we ate a LOT of chicken schnitzel (schnitzel is also made from veal, and can be made from any boneless meat that is thinly pounded out). It may not be common knowledge, but schnitzel is one of the most popular dishes in Israel and it is widely served in restaurants, cooked fresh at home, or sold frozen in grocery stores. I really haven't eaten often since then.

But we had been talking about making all winter... The we in this party lived in Berlin for a significant amount of time. During part of that time he lived above a restaurant that specialized in schnitzel, and for that and other reasons has a strong affinity for the dish. Somehow schnitzel-making kept getting postponed... either we didn't feel like something fried, or we didn't feel like meat, or we just didn't feel like schnitzel.

One recent spring day schnitzel finally seemed like the perfect thing to eat for lunch. I had picked up some beautiful asparagus, a really nice fennel bulb, and some arugula. I roasted the asparagus simply: with olive oil salt and pepper at 400°F until tender and just browned. I sliced the fennel super thin on a mandolin; I did the same to the radish and I added them to a pile of wild arugula all tossed together with a lemon vinaigrette.

In Israel I always ate schnitzel plain or with ketchup, but in Germany it is apparently often served with cranberry sauce. This was an exciting discovery for me as I love any excuse to make and eat cranberry sauce, and I always keep a bag of frozen cranberries in my freezer for just this reason. I made a batch and served it along with everything else.

Even though the schnitzel is essentially fried chicken it isn't all that heavy. The thinness of the meat allows for a kind of light crispyness that is satisfying without being a gut bomb. It goes perfectly with a side that is fresh, green and slightly acidic.

I was in Berlin once. It was June and the weather was perfectly sunny and warm. The daylight lasted forever and everywhere Berliners were out and about enjoying the early summer days and nights. One perfect afternoon, I went out to lunch with my dear friend. We drank cool rosé, and he ordered the schnitzel with white asparagus. I ordered something less memorable and gratefully accepted his offer to share his plate of food. Maybe schnitzel is always linked with asparagus for me for that reason... maybe its more linked to that day in Berlin than that year in Israel. Regardless, this plate of food makes me think of spring or early summer when everything is vibrant and new beginnings are on the horizon.

Classic Chicken Schnitzel
Serves 4-6

4 4-5 oz. chicken breasts, pounded to 1/8-1/4-inch thickness
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup all purpose flour (or GF flour, or matzo meal, or almond flour...  any type of flour will work although regular flour is the most traditional)
salt and pepper, to taste
canola, safflower or peanut oil, as needed (to fill the pan about 1/2 of an inch continuously while cooking)
lemon wedges
cranberry sauce, optional (see recipe below)

Using a meat mallet, rolling pin, or the bottom of a cast iron skillet, pound the chicken breasts until they are about 1/8-1/4-inch in thickness. Make sure each piece of chicken is pounded out to the same thickness. Also make sure to pound out the chicken as evenly as possible (so that parts of it aren't thicker than others, otherwise one end could get dry/burnt while the other is undercooked).

Beat the eggs in a deep shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the flour to another deep shallow bowl. Season it with a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.

In a large cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed pan, add a 1/2-inch layer of oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is hot (make sure that it is bubbly and really hot, not luke warm or semi-hot).

Dip the chicken breast one at a time into the eggs first. Shake off any excess egg. Next, dip the chicken into the flour. Shake off any excess flour. Place the coated chicken breast into the hot oil. Repeat with a second chicken breast. Depending on the size of the pan, cook 2 chicken breasts at a time. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side, or until the chicken is golden brown and fully cooked. Make sure the oil stays hot but not super hot. You may have to raise and lower the heat on the stovetop periodically as the schnitzel cooks. Once evenly browned on both sides and cooked through, transfer the schnitzel to a rack and continue the process until all of the chicken is cooked.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges and cranberry sauce if desired.

For the cranberry sauce:
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
Squeeze of orange or tangerine juice (optional)

Place all of the ingredients into a saucepan or pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from stove, allow to cool, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate. The sauce will thicken as it cools. 

Super Good Classic Fried Chicken

Homemade fried chicken can take time, patience, and a little finesse. The work pays off, and this comfort food is always a crowd-pleaser. Even a reluctant meat-eater, such as myself, has a hard time turning down something this crunchy, delicious and tender.

You can do this in a skillet, or a dutch oven, or a deep fryer. You can serve this hot or room temp. Room temp is easier to serve, and might even be better. It's a good idea to serve the chicken with a side of honey. They go crazy good together. Summer and fried chicken are synonymous, and even though hot weather doesn't exactly scream standing over a hot stove frying something, it's still a satisfying dish to serve at a late evening picnic, at a daytime BBQ, or as a special treat to take to the beach.

Because I needed to make this fried chicken kosher, I did not give the chicken a traditional buttermilk marinade before frying it. Instead, I did a flavorful spice rub. Buttermilk marinades are definitely something to consider if you are inclined, but instead of using dairy, a simple brined chicken is just as good (and may even be better?). I chose kosher chicken, which meant the poultry had already been salted, and therefor effectively brined. I love cooking with kosher chickens for this reason: they turn out a lot more tender and flavorful, but you don't have to do the work of brining yourself.

This recipe is pretty forgiving. Methodology is way more important here then the specific amounts... you can change the spices for the dredging mixture, you could use gluten free flour, and you could marinade the chicken or not. If you don't have a deep fryer, I suggest investing in a candy/deep fry thermometer. You will need to constantly adjust the temperature on your stove top to make sure the chicken fries at the right temp to ensure even browning and cooking. A thermometer becomes a fry-saver.

Get ready for some addictive, soul-warming, crisp and juicy fried chicken.

Classic Fried Chicken
Serves 8-10

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground pepper
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric

2 4-5 lb. kosher chickens, cut into 10 pieces (remove backbone, or have a butcher cut it up for you)
3 eggs, beaten with a splash of water
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons corn starch
oil for frying (peanut or safflower)

- Candy/fry thermometer
- Tongs or a spider
- Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet

In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, chipotle powder, ground coriander, cumin and turmeric. Mix together well.

Make sure to pat down each piece of chicken with a paper towel to ensure dryness. Add the cut dry chicken parts to a large bowl. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the chicken. Using your hands, toss the chicken pieces in the spice mixture and make sure each piece is evenly coated. Refrigerate for 3-5 hours.

Take the chicken out of the fridge, and let it come to room temp for about half an hour. Once the chicken is at room temp, fill a dutch oven or skillet with oil and place it on the stove on medium high heat. You want to make sure that the chicken is at last halfway submerged in oil as it fries on each side. You can fill a dutch oven a little more heavily with oil than a skillet. Allow the oil to reach 325°F.

While your oil is coming to temp, create the dreding mixtures for your chicken. I like to use baking dishes or deep bowls. In one dish, add the flour, corn starch and salt. Mix together with a fork. In another dish, whisk together the eggs with a splash of water. Lay out a rack with paper towels underneath it for the chicken to rest on once they are cooked. The excess oil will drip onto the paper towels and will help prevent the chicken from getting soggy in extra oil.

When your oil is heated to 325°F, start to dredge the chicken. You will need to fry your chicken in batches. You do not want to overcrowd the pot/skillet or your chicken will not fry as well. I usually fry 3-5 pieces at a time depending on the size of each piece of chicken (the fact that you have to fry in batches is part of the reason you need patience for this recipe... you could also use several pots at once to fry the chicken in a shorter amount of time... or just reach a zen cooking place and enjoy the time it takes to masterfully cook the meat). Take the chicken and dip it in the egg mixture first, followed by the flour mixture. Dust off any excess flour and gently place the chicken in the hot oil.  You want to keep the temperature of your oil consistent. Once you add the chicken pieces, the temp of the oil will drop, and you will need to raise the flame/temp on your stove. Adjust the heat while the chicken cooks so that the heat never goes above 325° or below 310°F.

Fry the chicken on each side for 6-8 minutes, or until both sides are golden brown, and the thickest part of the chicken is 165°F when tested with a meat thermometer (another handy and very cheap kitchen tool).

Using tongs, or a spider, remove the chicken once it is cooked and place it on a rack so that any excess oil can drip off.

Serve hot or room temp. Serve with your favorite condiments or side salads. I like to serve mine with a side of honey to dip the chicken in. Sounds crazy, but it's delicious. I also like to serve the chicken with a bright fresh salad (with lots of lemon or vinegar in the dressing), to cut the fat of the fried chicken.

Bon appetit!