Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: Golden fried veal chops, straight from Milan.
Crisp, golden breadcrumbs coating a tender veal chop: the cotoletta or costoletta alla milanese is a classic of Milan's cuisine, up there with saffron-stained risotto, osso buco and panettone. It gets its name from the cut of meat traditionally used, la costoletta, an inch-thick bone-in veal chop, which would correspond to a prime rib cut, such as rib eye. A second version of the cotoletta is made with a beaten-out-till-enormous-but-thin cutlet of veal, aptly called l'orecchia di elefante (elephant's ear), as reference to its size and shape. It's for those who like their fried goods crunchy all the way.
The Milanese can get a little defensive if you happen to suggest that their cotoletta is comparable to Vienna's weiner schnitzel, and will proudly point out that their cotoletta has been a specialty of the Lombardy region since the twelfth century. Recorded in documents from 1134, a meal of lombos cum panitio (breadcrumbed rib chops) was one of nine courses for the festival of San Satiro. It's mentioned again in 1492 in a recipe in Maestro Martino da Como's famous manuscript. The dish was even transported to Argentina where it became adapted to local tastes and is known as milanesa, a homage to its city of origin.
It's easy to see why this simple, delicious dish is so loved. Essentially, a veal chop is passed through beaten egg, then breadcrumbs and the chop is fried in an indecently large amount of clarified butter until crisp -- older recipe books used to instruct pouring the leftover butter on top of the cotoletta just before serving but now, a little more health conscious, a lemon wedge is usually served instead. It's easy to make -- especially when following a few golden rules for that perfect crumbed coating.
Keep that coating on: Traditionally, cotoletta alla milanese is made with just egg and breadcrumbs -- but dusting it with flour as well helps keep the breadcrumb coating on. Don't put salt on the meat or in the coating as it will lead to the breadcrumbs falling off -- season at the end. As soon as you put the chop in the pan, do not touch it until it's ready to turn. One turn only.
Keep it crisp: Leaving the breadcrumbed chops to rest in the fridge for at least thirty minutes before frying will result in a crisper coating. Pan fry on medium heat; too cool will result in a soggy breadcrumb coating, and too hot will burn. If you notice your pan getting too hot, adding some cold butter is a good way to even out the temperature quickly.
Cotoletta is usually served with a lemon wedge to cut the fried-in-butter goodness, but after all that work to get the perfectly golden, crisp breadcrumb coating, some may think it's a bit counterproductive (it immediately turns the coating soggy). Better would be to serve it with a glass of wine, a sparkling Franciacorta would do the trick.
4 veal chops, such as bone-in rib eye
1 cup (125 grams) breadcrumbs
3/4 cup (6 ounces or 170 grams) clarified butter
Photos by Emiko Davies