It’s funny how things come around – especially with cooking. I have always found that wherever I go and who ever I am talking to, there is a commonality in food – it’s a great leveller. We all eat the stuff, and amongst most people, there is a real interest in how to prepare it. All cooks have their favourite dishes and most have their particular ‘signature dishes’ – as we would say these days. Most families have in their repertoire, dishes that are handed down from mother to daughter – or to son, for that matter. It is from this intuitive, heart-felt knowledge that traditional cooking comes from. So it’s a strange thing when you find one of those ‘family’ dishes popping up in the least expected of places. For me, the unlikely candidate is ‘schnitzel’. Yes, I said schnitzel – not very Greek (or even English) you might say – but nevertheless, it is a real Greek classic, to be found on tavérna menus all over the country and listed as a cut of meat in all butchers. Let me explain…
I suspect it may be a hangover from the all that Bavarian influence on Greece in the 1830’s, that schnitzel has found its way onto the tables of Greece.
In its first years as a new, independent nation, the powers that be thought the Greeks needed a king, and they found a candidate in Otto of Bavaria. King Othon, as he was rebranded, brought with him all sorts of Germanic things. One was an architect, to build his new capital city, Athens; another was a brewer to supply the displaced Bavarians with beer; one Johann Ludwig Fuchs – the grand-father of the famous ‘Fix’ beer. This was the drink of the king and the nobility – for years beer was more expensive than wine in the new Greek state. But I digress…..back to schnitzel.
You could have knocked me over with a feather when I found out that the ‘snitsel’, so popular in most Greek tavérnes, was the schnitzel that I was familiar with from my childhood in England – but not very English you might say.
Schnitzel was one of my mother’s ‘signature’ dishes. As a young women and newly married, she experienced living abroad for the first time, in Sri Lanka – at that time, still Ceylon. Sharing a bungalow with a Dutch landlady, she learned how to cook schnitzel.
When you think about it, it is just another of those dishes that manages to help spin out a little meat to feed a big family – pieces of meat, beaten thin, covered with breadcrumbs and then fried to golden, delectable crispness. My Mum cooked it perfectly and it was a family favourite – usually a summer dish, served with a salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and celery, dressed with a good vinaigrette. All quite exotic for the 1960’s in England – and we loved it.
So I have always made schnitzel (or maybe it’s ‘snitsel’ ) for my Greco-English family. A dish that, via an extremely circuitous route, manages to bring together both my culinary traditions. I still cook it using my mother’s recipe – the one learned in a bungalow in Ceylon – and it’s a hit with all my Greek friends.
Shnitzel or ‘Snitsel’
400 – 500gm Pork filet (tenderloin)
1 egg, beaten well with a teaspoon of cold water
2 tabs plain flour
150 gm fine breadcrumbs
Ground black pepper
Sunflower oil – for frying
Put the pork filet on a chopping board and with a sharp knife trim away any bits of white tissue or fat.
Cut the filet in half, then open out each piece, so that you have four pieces.
With, either a rolling pin or a meat mallet, flatten out each of the pieces until they are quite thin – about half a centimetre.
Take three bowls. In one put the beaten egg and season with a little salt and pepper. In another the flour, adding seasoning, and in the last one the breadcrumbs.
Now take the flattened pieces of meat, and dip each one first in the flour , then the egg mixture and finally in the breadcrumbs.
In a large frying pan, heat 5 – 6 tabs of sunflower oil. Drop in a small piece of bread to check that the oil is sizzling hot.
Now add the crumbed, pork pieces – hopefully you can fit two at a time in the pan. It is important not to overcrowd them though.
Turn down the heat, so that the outer crumb layer doesn’t burn before the meat has cooked through.
Turn the pieces of pork over every few minutes until they are crisp and golden on both sides. Repeat with the rest of the meat – you may need to add a bit more oil to the pan.
Serve with chips and a Greek salad.