December 15, 2009
Milanesa, as its known in Argentina, is the gastronomic version of Madonna (bear with me here): immensely popular around the world and constantly being reinvented. While in Argentina it's called Milanesa, in Austria it's known as Wiener Schnitzel, and in the Southern United States it's called Chicken Fried Steak. The same dish is known in Chile as Milanesa Kaiser or simply as Escalope.
And Milanesa has just as many costume changes as the aforementioned pop diva. Milanesa appears as Milanesa a la Napolitana (when covered in ham, tomato sauce and Mozzarella cheese) as Milanesa a Caballo (Milanesa with fried egg on top) and even in chicken and veal versions (Milanesa de Pollo and Milanesa de Ternera). It's served as a sandwich (Sandwich de Milanesa) or can be stuffed (Milanesa Rellena).
So why is a classic Argentinean dish–served everywhere from high-end restaurants to hole-in-the-wall cafes–named after a city in Italy?
The Milanesa's story has as much history and drama surrounding it as Madge's love life.
Joseph Radetzky was Bohemia-born in 1766 and left orphaned at a young age to be cared for by his grandfather. (Austrian composer Johan Strauss' composition the Radetzky March immortalized Radetzky–who was also Strauss' son.) Shortly after Radetzky's grandfather's death, the young man entered into service as a cadet of the Austrian Army. He married Countess Francisca von Strassoldo Grafenburg in 1798 (they went on to have eight children), and fought against Napoleon's forces in the Napoleonic Wars. He was promoted to colonel, and later survived being hit by five bullets in the Battle of Marengo.
Though he spent his career teaching (and participating in) the art of war, he was known to be self-indulgent. He loved horses, beautiful women, and good wine and food. In 1836, at age 70, yet still displaying the vigor of youth, Radetzky was named Field Marshal of the Austrian army in Italy. During this time he led his underfunded and underarmed army to victory against both threats from afar and insurgents from within Milan.
After spending nearly 20 years in Italy, in 1855 he wrote a letter to the field commander of Emperor Franz Joseph Karl von Habsburg explaining a recipe served to guests in noble homes in Milan. It was called Cotoletta alla Milanesa, and Radetzky described the process of taking a cutlet of meat (he used veal ribs), slicing a thin piece of meat and removing the fat, pounding the meat, dipping it in egg and then in bread crumbs, and frying it.
The Austrian public became so fanatical over this dish, that the Strauss Brothers even named a song after it–the Coktelkt Polka. The Italians, though, complained bitterly that the recipe was Italian, even though it was adopted and known around the world as a Viennese dish. And today, it's beloved by Argentineans as something uniquely their own. Who's to say?
All I know is that the iconic Milanesa (yep, just like Madonna) is ever-changing, yet always popular. And it's got real staying power.
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Milanesa is typically served with a side of french fries and a wedge of lemon, as pictured.
4 milanesa-style cutlets (they may come this way, if not, slice top sirloin lengthwise into slices about 1/3 inch thick)
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons dried parsley
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
oil for frying
Lightly pound the meat with a mallet to tenderize it. Beat the eggs in a medium sized bowl, beat in the parsley, salt and pepper. Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. Dip the cutlets, one at a time, into the egg and spice mixture, and then place in the breadcrumbs. Press gently on each side to ensure that the cutlets are evenly coated all over.
Place the breaded cutlets on a plate and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. This will give the best flavor, but if you are hungry and rushed, they can be fried immediately.
Heat a half-inch oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Place the cutlets in the oil, two at a time, and cook until browned on one side, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the cutlets and fry on the other side until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate and repeat with the two remaining cutlets.
Serve with french fries or Ensalada Rusa and a wedge of lemon.