Photograph by Dan Friedman
When I was growing up, reheated frozen turkey schnitzel was a default dinner. The timing was carefully calibrated. My mother, who tutored math at home, could turn on the oven before her last class, come downstairs and put the schnitzel tray into the oven during her student’s first solo attempt at the algebraic challenge and, by the end of class, voilà, schnitzels and oven chips.
My sister and I were grateful that we’d arrive home from our after-school activities to find food on the table even after mum had worked all afternoon, but we also developed tasty ways of rehydrating ourselves after eating the hygroscopic meat. Whether it was the initial freezing of the meat, its reheating or the dry-breading of its surface that caused its tendency to absorb all moisture we never knew, but to avoid parched palates we doused it with a variety of tomato sauces, ketchups and tangy pickles. Plus, bitter experience had taught us to keep water, juices and squashes handy, just in case.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s Seeded Chicken Schnitzel with Parsley-Caper Mayonnaise
Adapted from ‘Fried & True’ by Lee Schrager With Adeena Sussman
For the parsley and caper mayonnaise
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 cups loosely packed parsley leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon salt-packed capers
For the chicken
4 skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2 lbs. total), each piece cut into 3 long strips
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds (or extra white, if not available)
2 tablespoons flaxseed
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds, roughly crushed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sunflower oil
This Saturday, a long overdue concept will make its debut at Manhattan’s Hester Street Fair: Israeli schnitzel with an urban-inspired twist. Schnitz NYC, a pop-up vendor, started by three childhood friends, Allon Yosha and siblings Donna and Yoni Erlich, will launch their business with two schnitzel sandwiches topped with unconventional condiments like daikon ginger relish and caramelized onion mustard.
“There’s a big educational component with schnitzel, in general, because a lot of people don’t know what schnitzel is,” said Yosha, a businessman with a lifelong passion for food. This isn’t to say that the word “schnitzel” is completely esoteric — with trendy schnitzel trucks on both sides of the country (and even in fantasy animation land, the food’s popularity is indeed growing. But for those who are still under the impression that schnitzel is “like a sausage or whatever,” they’ll be surprised to hear that they’ve likely had something like it — though it might have been called Milanese. Or Tonkatsu. Or, dare I say, a McNugget. The bottom line is, most cultures have a fried meat tradition, and while Italian and Southern American varieties may have already earned their fame, it’s time for Israel’s comfort meat to shine.
Before my recent move to Israel I imagined the food in my new home to be something of a mix between a Jewish deli and a Middle Eastern falafel stand. And while this has proved to be not entirely off-base, schnitzel did not fit anywhere into my expectations.
Though, largely unacknowledged by American Jews, schnitzel – a thinly pounded, breaded, and fried cutlet – is one of the de facto national dishes of Israel. “Schnitzel, not falafel, became to Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds what hamburgers, fried chicken, and pizza are to Americans,” writes Gil Marks in the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.”
Here schnitzel is so ubiquitous, both in fine dining and in cheap lunch spots, that one of the common words for boneless chicken breast is, simply, schnitzel — because what else would you use that cut of meat for? And indeed in German the word schnitzel means cutlet.