Monday, June 8, 2009

Schnitzel, thanks mom

As a child, I didn’t appreciate my mother’s cooking like I should have. A first generation American born to Austrian immigrants, my mother learned her skills in my grandmother’s kitchen. Mom didn’t have a huge repertoire of recipes. Most of our meals were casseroles, sausages, braised meats and cabbages. Her crock pot was her instrument. Unfortunately, seasoning was not en vogue and most of the cooking was pretty bland. I often opted for McDonalds which was delicious. With age comes wisdom, however, and by my teens I knew there was something quite special going on in our very modest home. None of my friend’s ovens produced homemade scalloped potatoes, or pork chops and cabbage braised slowly for hours laden with caraway seeds. At their houses we ate foods like steaks or shrimp. For me, those foods were reserved for the ever special dinner out.

Fortunately, as time passed, I was able to let my mom know how great I thought her skill in the kitchen was. In the weeks before she passed away, she could still gather a couple of bowls to the kitchen table where she could shuck peas or de-stem fresh green beans. Dad would have to take over the part that required standing at the stove. The last meal she prepared for me was some time earlier when I asked her to teach me how to make her stuffed peppers. Aside from the love that went in to them, there were no special ingredients. Hollowed out bell peppers stuffed with ground beef and pork, rice and a few spices that went into the crock pot with a simple tomato sauce. It was the only time I ever set foot into the kitchen with my mother.

One of mom’s rare stovetop preparations was schnitzel. Weiner Schnitzel is traditionally a veal cutlet that is tenderized with a mallet then breaded and fried. Since veal was expensive, mom used pork. That still classifies as Schnitzel. I’ve taken a few liberties with mom’s version but the concept is there. I use fresh breadcrumbs and buttermilk for the binder and I cook them on a flat top instead a pan full of grease.

Instead of the lemon wedges and lingonberry jam (not easy to find outside of our old Austrian neighborhood), I serve these with a simple but hearty onion gravy. A few roasted potatoes with smoked paprika later and my version of this dish is something mom would be proud of. She liked my cooking.

We all pay our respects in different ways but for me, I pay homage to my mother through the gift of my cooking. While we didn’t cook together, she passed on her taste for foods that I might not appreciate otherwise. I cannot get the crock pot out without thinking of her. As we fast approach the 5th anniversary of her passing, this meal was very reminiscent of a typical dinner from when I was a little boy, with a little twist of course.

Note: For anyone that actually reads my blog posts, you might notice I talk of a mother that’s alive and one that is not. I was adopted. My natural mother and I reunited years ago and are very close. She is in many, many posts. My mother that raised me passed away but endures in my heart and spirit.

Schnitzel with Roasted Potatoes and Onion Gravy

4 boneless pork cutlets (pounded thin)
½ cup flour+ 3 tbsp (divided)
1 egg
¼ cup buttermilk
½ cup bread crumbs (I prefer making my own but store bought would be OK)
5 tbsp canola oil (divided)
5 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes sliced into thick disks.
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp granulated garlic
2 medium Vidalia onions, sliced thinly
4 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine the potatoes, 2 tbsp oil, smoked paprika and garlic. Toss to coat. Lay out on greased cookie sheet or baking pan and place in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Mix the egg and buttermilk. Season pork with salt and pepper before dredging. Dredge the pork cutlets in ½ cup flour. Shake excess then dredge in buttermilk and egg and finally dredge in bread crumbs. Set breaded cutlets aside to rest on a wire rack.

In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add 3 tbsp oil and onions. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until translucent and beginning to brown. Add 3 tbsp flour and combine. Cook for another minute. Bottom of the pan will brown a bit. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until reduced by a third (about ½ hour).

In a sauté pan over medium high heat add two tablespoons of oil and fry the cutlets 2 at a time. Cook about 3-4 minutes per side depending on thickness. Add a bit more oil before doing the second 2 cutlets.

To serve, arrange fried cutlets and roasted potatoes on a platter and pour onion gravy over top.

Serves 4.

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