The Globalization of Thin Slices of Breaded Meat

Writing about the history of particular dishes is not my preferred way of doing food history.  I’d rather concentrate on whole cuisines.

Even so, some dishes cry out for study.  One is breaded (or egg and breaded) thin slices of meat.  This preparation appeared around the globe from Latin America to Japan to India to the Middle East in the nineteenth century (the late nineteenth century, I suspect). It was variously called a cutlet, a milanesa, a schnitzel, or that Texas specialty, chicken fried steak. It probably did not appear earlier because it requires fresh meat and crumbs of white bread, neither of them widely available to the middle class, let alone the rest of the population, before that time. Here’s a brief discussion of chicken fried steak and its Mexican counterpart, the milanesa, prompted by  my friend and writer for the Dallas Morning News, Kim Pierce.

I’m not sure that I agree with the commentator that the origin is Central European.   Nor do I know when the milanesa made it to Mexico.  It could have been brought by German or Italian immigrants in the late nineteenth century.  Or even by the French come to that, though the choice of the word milanesa does suggest some Italian connection.

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

18 thoughts on “The Globalization of Thin Slices of Breaded Meat

  1. Cindy Bertelsen

    Rachel,

    Good to see you “back.”

    About milanesa, we ate this as Peace Corps volunteers in Paraguay. The cook at the pension cooked a number of what looked like Italian-inspired dishes for us, including a form of pizza with a VERY thick crust, tomatoes and black olives. Actually more like pissaladiere than not. In Morocco, I don’t recall ever eating anything with the “chicken-fried steak” treatment.

    Reply
  2. Rachel Laudan

    Hmm, Paraguay. I know nothing of immigration patterns there. Did it have the same large Italian immigration that Argentina experienced?

    My sense in Mexico, based on no evidence whatsoever, is that milanesa came much earlier than pizza and that the latter came from the US. So back to the cookbooks when I get back to Guanajuato.

    Reply
  3. Cindy Bertelsen

    No, Paraguay tended to be filled with Japanese and Ukranians. The Italian influence did come from Argentina, as some young women went there to work as domestics or for whatever other reasons, family visits, etc.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan

      My goodness, I had no idea. Neither Japanese nor Ukranians seem particularly likely sources. Perhaps it was Italian domestics from Argentina. Or perhaps upper class travelers. It doesn’t take many to change food habits.

      Reply
  4. Adam Balic

    Cotoletta alla milanese (breaded veal cutlet) is a classic dish of Lombardy. There is an on going debate about which is the original, cotoletta alla milanese or Wienerschnitzel.

    In terms of breaded meat, they were very common in the 19th century and you tend to find them in ex-British colonial countries. I’ll look into it further if you like, but my feeling is that the origins (at least for the UK) are from when meat was spit roasted and crumbs or flour were used to create a crust. A vestige of this is the crumbs on a Wiltshire ham (although this isn’t spit roasted). This process was described as powdering, endouring, dredgings, frothing etc. I’m not sure that there will be a single point of origin for the technique though.

    He is an 18th century English “global” recipe:

    Mutton kebobed.

    CUT a loin of mutton in four pieces, take off the skin, and rub them with the yolk of an egg, strew over them a few breadcrumbs, and a little shred parsley, turn them round and spit them, roast them and keep basting all the while with fresh butter, to make the froth rife; when they are enough, put a little brown gravy under, and serve them up: garnish with pickles.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan

      No I’m not sure there is a single point of origin either. But if there are several, the preconditions for the dish must have been pretty widespread in Europe.

      Has the debate about milanesa and Wienerschnitzel been written up anywhere. It’s not a debate with which I am familiar.

      I’ll have to think about the theory of breading to make a crisp crust when roasting. It seems to me that there is a rather big jump from breading large pieces of meat and roasting them as in the mutton kebobed case (even though they are glued on with egg) to cutting thin pieces of meat and frying them. Why I think these are a big jump I’m not sure but I do.

      Reply
  5. Cindy Bertelsen

    What about Japanese breading? I know next to nothing about Japanese cooking, but is suddenly occurs to me that the Japanese way with breading might of interest, too, though my off-the top-of-my-head guess leans toward breading being something they learned from the Portuguese, who learned it from????

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan

      Cindy, the breading in Japan is fascinating. Thanks for bringing it up. I’ve never had clear ideas about it.

      Adam, how intriguing that there’s such a gap between breaded fried things and collops or escalopes in the eighteenth century. Bears mulling over. It’s just one more of the many cases where culinary innovations that in retrospect seem obvious were just never made at the time.

      Reply
  6. Adam Balic

    Crumbing meat and frying it, isn’t that different to crumbing meat and basting it on a spit roast. The end effect is near identical. One thing that changed in the UK during the 19th century was the fireplace and the development of the modern stove. Fireplaces became much more narrow, so a horizontal spit for roasting became impractical. This resulted in a lot of formally common cooking techniques being dropped, one of which was the breading, dredging, frothing etc. My guess would be that in adapting to the new cooking equipment, frying became much more important on a domestic level then formally.

    Never the less, you find breaded fried items in the 18th century:

    Veal Cutlets. 1792. YOUR cutlets mufl be about the thicknefsof a half crown ; but the length of them is of no confe- quence. Dip them in the yolk of an egg, and ftrew over them crumbs of bread, a few fweet herbs, fome lemon peel, and a little gra-ted nutmeg. Fry them in frefh butter.

    To fry Soles. 1769. Skin your Soles as you do Eels, but keep on. their Heads, rub them over with an Egg, and ftrew over them Bread Crumbs, fry them over a brifk Fire in Hogs-lard a light Brown, ferve them up with good melted Butter, and garnifh it with green Pickles.

    To fry Eels. 1796. Cut one or two eels in pieces; cue out the back bone, and fcore it on both fides; marinade it an hour in vinegar, with parfley, diced onions, fhal- lots, and four cloves; then drain it, bafte it with eggs and bread crumbs, fry it of a good colour; garnifh with fried parfley, and ferve with a,relifliing fauce in a fauce- boat.

    To Fry Tripe. 1770. Cut your Tripe into Pieces about three or four Inches “long; dip them in the Yolk of an Egg, and a few Crumbs .of Bread; fry them very brown ; then take them out of your Pan, and lay them in a Difh to drain. Have another Difh, that is warm, ready to put them in, and ferve them up, with Butter and Muftard in a Cup

    Sheeps Rumps with Parmefan Cheefe. 1737. PU T your Sheeps Rumps in a good Braiie, as before, and when done, put them to cool; then take fome Crumbs of Bread very fine, and as much Parmefan Cheefe mixed together, then take your Rumps and dip them in Eggs, and put the Crumbs of Bread and Parmefan Cheefe over ; and if you find that once doing over is not enough, do them twice, and fry them in good Hog’s Lard of a good Colour, and ferve them with fried Parfley.

    What is interesting is that the range of dishes breaded and fried is restricted compared to what we would see in the 19th century. In the 18th century there are thousands of recipes for “collops” (= “escalope” = “slice”) of veal, beef or lamb and many recipes for breaded fried things, but rarely and breaded fried collops, which seems obvious, but apparently isn’t.

    Reply
  7. Chris

    I enjoyed your post. I found this after my wife brought home a cut for Milanesa, which I’ve never made or had. Your post satisfied a good bit about my curiosity of the origins. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it Chris. The more I think about it, the more it seems to me it was European food for those who did not yet have enclosed ranges/ovens.
      Nice blog you have.

      Reply
  8. Bonna

    Rachel,

    I’ve been on line looking unsuccessfully for a description/recipe which we’ve been making in my Italian family for 3 generations called Rovellini (sp?). It’s very thinly slice round or flank steak, pounded, then egged, breaded, and fried. It’s served either dry with lemon, or baked in a seasoned tomato sauce. Could this be a regional name/recipe? Would like any info you could give me.

    Reply
  9. Ji-Young Park

    Speaking of Tonkatsu, it’s a Japanese influence in South Korea and it was almost exclusively a restaurant dish until packaged versions became available in supermarkets. I don’t know how much has change in the past 7 or years since I’ve been back to South Korea, but I never saw boneless chicken breast or pork cuts that could be made into tonkatsu at home in markets that catered to Koreans. Korean markets used to sell exclusively Korean cuts for grilling, braising, stewing and such.

    Funny thing is packaged panko (Japanese breadcrumbs, the texture seems shaved or shredded, rather than ground or pulverized) were pretty commonly available in stores before sliced white bread became widely available in European style bakeries in South Korea.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Thanks a ton, Ji-Young. I didn’t even know that the South Koreans did tonkatsu. Learn something everyday. And what were the panko used for, if not things such as tonkatsu?

      Reply
  10. Ji-Young Park

    They were used for Japanese style tempura. Korean style battered and fried vegetables are shallow-fried, not deep fried. So, my parents tended to view deep-fried tempura as an extravagant, indulgent use of cooking at oil at home. It still kind of bothers them.

    Fried foods were usually reserved for special occasions. It wasn’t until the 1980s that they started to become a more regular feature of home cooking in South Korea. That’s also about the time that deep-fried street foods started proliferating. I’m stunned at how popular Koreanized fried chicken as become over there and in Los Angeles.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Thanks Susan. That all makes sense. And in the same way it bothers me to use an oven to bake a few vegetables or roast one or two potatoes.

      Reply
  11. Camilo Leyva

    I’m from Colombia and we know the dish (breaded meat, specially veal and pork) as milanesa. I think it’s pretty well known around latin america. Some time ago I was looking at milanesa recipes and read that the dish originated in the midst of the napoleonic armies for conservation purposes. I can’t find the source now, so I’m not sure if I just made that up. I know that Napoleon offered a large sum of money to the person that invented a method to transport food for a fair amount of time that then could be consumed and was of course unspoiled… I would love to know if anyone has any ideas or information in this regard.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      I’d never heard that story, Camilo. I guess it would help meat keep. If you find out any ore, please let me know.

      Reply

I'd love to know your thoughts