Saturday, April 12, 2008

Paprika Schnitzel: My souvenir from Vienna

When I was a college student (or, more precisely, when I was returning to being a student) I went to Vienna for a month to study German, my first trip outside North America. Staying in a student hostel, a studentenheim, on Pfeilgasse and having a student meal ticket good at a variety of restaurants near the university, I got to taste much of what was Viennese summer fare in those days. The meats that were most wonderful (aside from sausages, but they were for snacks with tap beer and crusty rolls) were the schnitzels, thin, pounded cutlets of veal (typically), which were quickly fried. Weiner Schnitzel (weinerschnitzel) was the tops, a thin cutlet of tender veal breaded and delicately fried and served with a slice of lemon to squeeze on it. But the more unusual, and my favorite, was the elegantly simple paprikaschnitzel, thin cutlets not breaded, but served in a sour cream and paprika sauce.

This is not the same as Veal Paprikas, which is a Hungarian veal stew, a gulyas, which is also served in Austria. Paprika schnitzel, by contrast, is less well known and is truly a Viennese dish, a fusion from before there was 'Fusion' of Austrian and Hungarian cooking from the period when both countries were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with Vienna as its glittering capital. The schnitzel part is very Austrian, the paprika and sour cream are characteristically Hungarian. The version offered here is more modern, made with cutlets of turkey breast rather than the traditional veal, but it works equally well.

The recipe serves six, preferably accompanied by noodles or potatoes. A potato salad of thinly sliced waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, dressed with oil and vinegar with little or no mayonnaise would also have been served where I first had this dish. Beer certainly goes with it, a malty German pilsner style rather than a hoppy beer. Or for wine, a crisp cold white, such as an Austrian GrĂ¼ner Veltliner or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, would be excellent.

Paprika Schnitzel

1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 pounds skinless, boneless turkey breast (or chicken breast)
2 tablespoons butter (approx.)
2 tablespoons canola oil (approx.)
1 shallot or 1/2 of a small onion, minced
3/4 teaspoon paprika (Hungarian if possible)
1/8 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 cup brandy or white wine
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup sour cream
Salt to taste
Minced parsley for garnish

Mix the flour with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. With a sharp knife slice the turkey or chicken on a diagonal into large flat pieces 1/4-inch thick. With the side of a cleaver or with a flat-bottomed plate or pan, gently pound the meat slices to flatten them further. Dust both sides with the flour mixture. Set aside.

In a large, preferably non-stick, frying pan, heat part of the butter and oil to medium high. Fry part of the meat briefly, in a single layer, turning several times just until slightly browned in spots. Store in a warm (180 degrees) oven while frying the rest of the chicken, adding more butter and oil as needed. When the meat is finished and removed from the pan, add a little more butter and oil and gently fry the minced shallot or onion until softened. Lower the heat and fry in the paprika very gently for 1/2 minute, being careful not to burn it. Add brandy or wine and the marjoram, and let the mixture cook down for a minute or so. Add the water and sour cream and a little salt, bringing it to a boil, stirring. Add the fried turkey or chicken pieces, turning to coat and heat them through. Remove from the heat. Taste the sauce and add a little salt if necessary. Transfer meat pieces to a platter. Spoon any extra sauce over them. Dust with minced parsley to serve.

Accompany with hot, buttered noodles or buttered steamed potatoes, a little minced parsley dusted on either of them.

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