September 13, 2010
Months ago, I wrote about how the iconic Milanesa got it's name–and while the dish was pilfered by an Austrian Count during a stay in Italy and adopted by the Austrians as Wiener Schnitzel, those in Spanish-speaking countries use the name that's a nod to the city it came from.
In Argentina, they are so Italian that even their Spanish is spoken with an Italian accent (more than 60 percent of the population is of Italian descent) but don't let that fact or the name Milanesa a la Napolitana confuse you–this milanesa is 100 percent Argentinean.
It starts with a grass-fed beef cutlet, breaded and fried. But then, it dresses itself up as if it were a countess going to a costume ball in the era of Count Radetzky, a frilly, layered swath of temptation. First goes on a slice (or two) of thin, salty prosciutto. A generous dressing of tangy tomato sauce. Topped with thick slices of Mozzarella. And the final touch–it's placed under the broiler until the cheese topping browns and bubbles.
Milanesa was once eaten around the dinner tables of the noble class in Milan. But this milanesa is a distinctly Argentinean invention–it was named after a dish created in the kitchen of a joint called Pizzeria Nápoli, in Buenos Aires (near Luna Park) in the 1930s.
The story goes that a new chef-in-training had a hand in creating the dish–he overcooked the last milanesa in the house for a repeat customer who ordered the dish every night. Quick- thinking owner don La Grotta topped the thing with ham, sauce and cheese, and then went out to convince the customer to try the 'new specialty' of the house. The fledgling chef saved the day in this case by steaming the milanesa to heat it (and rehydrate it) rather than using the broiler.
Before long, the new menu at El Nápoli read 'Milanesa a la Nápoli', and the renown of the dish spread. Soon, other restaurants were offering a riff on the fried steak topped like a pizza; and by the 1950s, even the name was part of Argentinean vernacular–only re-baptized as Milanesa a la Napolitana.
By now we've learned that sometimes in the kitchen, the best meals are the result of happy accidents. Not always, mind you, but inventive thinking can rescue a meal and heck, even make a new classic! Thank goodness, in this case, that the outcome here was so tasty–when without snappy judgement the meal would have ended up in the trash, and the new chef fired. Now go and make a classic yourself!
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Milanesa a la Napolitana
Neopolitan Style Schnitzel
A vegetarian version of this dish can be made by making a Milanesa de Soja and either omitting the ham or using a vegetarian ham substitute.
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
8-10 slices Prosciutto
1 cup tomato sauce
2 cups Mozzarella, sliced
Lightly pound the meat with a mallet to tenderize it. Beat the eggs in a medium sized bowl, and 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.
Place the cutlets on a cookie sheet or cast-iron skillet. Layer the prosciutto over cutlets–you can use one or two slices, depending on your taste. Spread 1/4 cup of tomato sauce on each cutlet. Place the slices of Mozzerella on top of the tomato sauce in an even layer.
Heat the oven to broil, and put the pan with the cutlets under the broiler. Broil until the cheese is brown and bubbling and the meat has heated through but not dried out, about 5-9 minutes. Serve with a sharp knife, and a glass of Malbec. (Also pairs well with a light beer, such as Cerveceria Jerome's Rubio or Diablo.)