Fall is here, and with it our thoughts turn to cooler climes and warmer foods. But summer is not all dead yet, so before we jump headlong into soup season, we thought it would be fun to cook up some schnitzel. For a summer evening or an Oktoberfest party, schnitzel is a great way to go. In this post, we’ll look at what schnitzel is, how to cook it, and the temps you need to be aware of to make it better. Let’s get cooking!
What is schnitzel?
Schnitzel translates directly from German as “cutlet.” It is a thin piece of meat, often pounded out even thinner, and cooked. The classic version from Vienna, Wienerschnitzel, is made of veal, breaded and fried. (That’s right, a certain hotdog restaurant chain is not serving anything like its namesake dish.) The schnitzel most people think of is, in fact, fried, but it needn’t be so, necessarily. Any thin-pounded cutlet of meat can be described as a schnitzel, and there are delicious versions that are braised.
The version here is in the style of the Viennese one, but is made from boneless pork chops, not veal cutlets. (Pork chops are much easier to find at the grocery store!) Don’t worry about authenticity, though; this version is eaten throughout the German-speaking world.
If the idea of a thin-pounded, fried cutlet of meat sounds like chicken-fried steak to you, you are not wrong! Chicken-fried steak is an American schnitzel, and a dang tasty one at that.
A perfect schnitzel will be moist and juicy inside, with a crisp-cooked coating outside. No one wants a soggy crust or chewy-dry meat inside! To balance those desires, we need to look closely at the temperatures we employ.
Schnitzel frying temp
First, there is the frying temperature. As with all things fried, this is a balancing act. Too low a temperature and nothing crisps; it just sponges up the oil and stays blah. Too high a temperature, though, and you’ll char the breading before the meat has time to cook.
We experimented with a couple fry temps on this batch of schnitzel and found that we achieved the best results when we put the meat into the oil at 350°F (177°C) and tried to maintain a temperature of about 325°F (163°C) throughout the cook. This gave us a beautiful golden crust that was crisp and light, not oil-logged or nearly burnt.
While we usually recommend the ChefAlarm® for any deep frying projects, in the case of this shallow-fry, we recommend using your Thermapen® ONE. The fast response time gives you up-to-the-second oil temperatures, and it’s easy to keep your Thermapen in one hand and your tongs in the other, ready to check both the oil temp and the meat.
A cast iron skillet is perfect for this project. You don’t need a whole pot of oil—about an inch will do—and the heat-retention capability of the cast iron helps the oil to rebound from its temperature drop more quickly.
A note on frying and color
This would be a good place to point out that the color of fried food and its doneness have little if anything to do with each other. Bigger cuts, like fried chicken, will be a much darker brown before they’re done than schnitzel will. But there are factors that go even beyond cook time.
Fresh oil will result in foods that are up to several shades lighter-colored than foods cooked in oil that has been fried in once or twice. If you are depending on food color as a doneness indicator and are using oil that has already been fried in, you’re in for some undercooked food!
Schnitzel doneness temp
Very well. Our fry temp has been established; what about the temperature of the meat itself? The USDA currently gives 145°F (63°C) as the doneness temperature for pork‚ a far cry better than their old recommendation of 165°F (74°C)! Hitting that temperature can be tough in such a thin cut of meat, especially if we want a golden brown coating. But try we must! As soon as the crust begins to approach looking like it’s almost done, start probing the cutlet with the tip of your Thermapen. The sensor cone on the tip is small enough to take temperatures even in thin cuts like this, so it’s ideal for the job.
The temperature will be changing rapidly, so keep an eye out for the lowest temperature you see. If it’s below 145°F (63°C), keep cooking, but don’t get complacent. We were taking these out of the oil before the outside looked completely done—the color deepens even after removing them from the fryer. There’s a good chance some will shoot past your target pull temp. If so, just take them out as soon as you notice.
You should be cooking your schnitzels one at a time. Not only are they fairly large, such that two won’t fit in a pan, but the attention they require is more than you ought to split between several pieces.
Fried schnitzel like this is traditionally served with lemon slices for squeezing onto the meat. That may sound strange, but you should try it; it’s very good. It’s also not uncommon to serve it with a fried egg on top. Either way, some home fries or other toasty-crispy potato dish is a welcome side.
We hope you give this recipe a try. It’s not very difficult, as long as you stay on top of your temperatures. Use your Thermapen to monitor the oil and adjust the heat to keep it as close to 325°F (163°C) as possible, and keep going with your Thermapen to check the doneness of the pork. Do those two things, and you’ll have crisp, juicy pork schnitzel in no time. Glückliches Kochen!
Traditional recipe, with breading advice from J. Kenji Lopéz-Alt
- 6 boneless pork chops
- Salt, pepper, and paprika (not hot or smoked)
- 2 C flour
- 5 eggs
- 3 C bread crumbs
- About 3 C peanut or corn oil for frying
- Pound each pork chop flat until they are about 1/8″ thick, perhaps a little thicker. If using a meat mallet with a textured side, pound the mat on both sides with the pokey side once it’s flat. If not, with each one with the back of a knife a few times after flattening. Either way, this will create more surface area for breading to adhere to.
- Season each cutlet on both sides with salt, pepper, and paprika.
- Begin preheating your oil, about 1/2–1″ deep, in a cast iron or other heavy pan. Check it every so often with your Thermapen ONE to make sure it doesn’t go over 350°F (177°C).
- Set up a breading station with three sheet pans, one pan each for flour, egg, and bread crumbs. Whisk the eggs together in the pan. (If you don’t have three sheet pans, just use large bowls.)
- Bread each cutlet one at a time by first dredging them in flour and shaking off the excess, then dipping them in egg, and finally coating in the bread crumbs.
- Set each schnitzel aside after coating.
- When the oil comes to temp, 350°F (177°C), add a schnitzel very carefully to the pan. Cook for 30–45 seconds and flip it, all the while checking the oil temperature with your Thermapen and adjusting heat to maintain 325°F (163°C).
- Check the temperature inside the cutlet as soon as the breadcrumbs start to look blond. If the temperature has reached 145°F (63°C), remove the schnitzel to a paper towel-lined rack to cool. It will darken somewhat in color.
- Let the heat get back up to 350°F (177°C) before adding the next schnitzel to the oil. Continue cooking them all.
- Serve and enjoy!
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