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A Brief History of the Schnitzel

Ah, Vienna! One of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful cities, capital of Austria, seat of the Hapsburg dynasty, haunting ground of Mozart and Beethoven, international centre of culture and learning. And most importantly, the home of that most delectable of fried meat products – the Wienerschnitzel.

The practice of hammering a bit of meat into tender flatness before covering it in breadcrumbs and frying it until delicious goes back at least as far as the Romans – it is mentioned in the work of Apicius, the Romans’ less annoying equivalent of Jamie Oliver. The origins of the modern schnitzel, however, remain something of a mystery. Two branches of the Hapsburg family, one in Austria, the other in Italy, both claimed responsibility for unleashing this bit of fried heaven on the world back in the 12th century. “Wienerschnitzel” simply means Viennese schnitzel (“schnitzel” referring to a slice or sliver of meat); the Italian impostor is known as Cotoletta alla Milanese.

While a schnitzel may be made of any kind of meat, with pork and chicken proving particularly popular, it is worth noting that in Austria it may only legally be described as “Wienerschnitzel” if it is made of veal. An investigation into the “Wienerschnitzel” at the Montesino (options: chicken or pork) is ongoing.

The Wienerschnitzel has inspired a host of meaty tributes around the world, from Iran’s shenitsel to Japan’s tonkatsu and America’s own chicken-fried steak. The schnitzel’s enduring and widespread popularity only goes to show something that we bloggers have always known – you literally cannot go wrong when you coat meat in breadcrumbs and fry it. Delicious.

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