Wiener Schnitzel

Get out your lederhosen, today is Wiener Schnitzel Day.

The name schnitzel translates in the style of Vienna. Therefore, it is the National Dish of Austria. Like many other beloved national traditions around the world (for example: Burgundy, Champagne, Scotch), there is a law in Austria protecting the phrase Wiener Schnitzel. The law specifically states that any use of the word schnitzel must describe a meal made from veal.

The origin of Schnitzel, is not Austrian, German or Swiss. The concept is Roman, possibly as early as the first century BC by the gourmand Apicus. However, there is quite the culinary quarrel between a family that is both Austrian and Italian, going back all the way to 1134. Both sides of the family claim credit for the dish, and the Italian side goes as far to state that they once served the dish in a banquet in 1134 in Milan. The dish in Italy is Cotoletta alla Milanese, and there are documents dating from 1148 mentioning “Lumbolos cum panitio” (little chops with breadcrumbs). The main difference between the two dishes is the Austrian version is boneless, while the Italian serves it with the bone.

The story of Wiener Schnitzel reads like a good drama. Not only do you have the story of the family fighting over this culinary delight, you also have the fascinating story of Austrian General, Joseph Radetsky von Radetz. According to lore, von Radetz received word of this tasty veal steak from Adjunant to the Emporer, Count Attems. Von Radetz spent time in Milan around 1857, fell in love with the dish that the Count had mentioned, and brought it back to his homeland as a National Treasure. Upon his return, Emporer Franz Joseph I of Austria personally requested the recipe from him. A delightful tale to explain the origin of the dish, yet the story appears to be just that, a story. In 2007, linguist Heinz Dieter Pohl declared that this story could not be true. According to Pohl, Weiner Schitzel’s connection with Radetzky is in 1969 from an Italian gastronomy book and before this time the story was unknown in Austria. Further, no such Count existed around that time with that name.

There are many stories talking about the origin of Weiner Schnitzel, even as early as the 7th century. One, if not the oldest, operating restaurants in the world serves this on their beautifully crafted menu. The restaurant is in Salzburg, St. Peter Stiftskeller that opened in 803. Whatever the story, this dish is delicious. Made with veal slices, butterflied, seasoned, rolled in flour, dipped in eggs, and finally a gentle coat of breadcrumbs. No need to press the breadcrumbs into the meat as that will need to stay somewhat dry to puff up during the cooking process. Traditionally served with Kopfsalat (lettuce with a sweet vinaigrette), potatoes, and lemon slices.

My favorite reference to Schnitzel comes from 1965 in the epic film, The Sound of Music, which was set in Salzburg. A song from the beloved movie, My Favorite Things, reference schnitzel with noodles. Go ahead; take a minute to sing it, I did…

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

These are a few of my favorite things

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels

Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles

Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings

These are a few of my favorite things

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes

Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes

Silver white winters that melt into springs

These are a few of my favorite things

When the dog bites

When the bee stings

When I’m feeling sad

I simply remember my favorite things

And then I don’t feel so bad

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