Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ohh, Die Schöne Schnitzelbank

Not many folks have heard of the German word 'schnitzelbank,' which, despite its obscurity, is actually a very versatile word.  Traditionally, 'schnitzelbank' refers to an old-timey woodworking bench used to clamp a piece of wood into position in order to shave it down into an axe handle or something similar (bank = bench, and schnitzeln = to cut into small pieces).  Later on, the schnitzelbank became the focus point in the chorus of a short humorous song.  Since the song had (has) an accompanying poster that was frequently displayed in bars, singing the song was presumably accompanied by imbibing copious amounts of alcohol.  More recently, the schnitzelbank song was reprised by one of the most talented music groups of the 1990s, the Animaniacs (which is how we learned of it).

We would like to suggest another meaning for 'schnitzelbank.'  When learning German, before we learned the verb 'schnitzeln,' we learned the noun 'Schnitzel,' which means, 'breaded and fried cutlet of meat' (of which there are many kinds).  Also, before we learned that 'bank' means 'bench,' we learned that 'bank' means 'bank,' as in, 'a place for storing pecuniary deposits'.  Thus, our first inclination would be to translate 'schnitzelbank' as, 'a place for storing breaded and fried meat cutlets.'  (This interpretation was in part based on the main character in the Animaniacs' sketch, Otto, who looked as if he could be storing many schnitzels in his gut.)

As part of our waste reduction efforts, we began saving bread crumbs and stale bread in jars in the freezer, which we affectionately referred to as our 'schnitzel savings account,' since we were saving them up to make a big batch of schnitzel when we had enough.  From there, it only took a couple weeks of singing the schnitzelbank song in the shower to realize that we had a new way of translating this wonderful German word.  And finally, this weekend, we decided it was time to break open our breaded piggy bank and make some schnitzel.

Crumbs on the counter from slicing bread for sandwiches?  Add them to the...
...schnitzelbank!  Looks like we might have enough here.  Not all of these crumbs were from small deposits like the one above--some stale bread and hot dog buns that didn't turn out very well are also in there.
Time to turn the big crumbles into little crumbs.  By far the fastest and easiest tool we know of for this task is the blender.
Ooh!  Look at that uniform particle size distribution.
Now we need three containers: one with flour, one with beaten eggs, and one with the bread crumbs, to which we add the seasonings.  We used about three-quarters of a cup of bread crumbs, seasoned with two teaspoons each of garlic powder and pepper, one teaspoon salt, and some chives.  Katie says, "the chives would probably work better if you chopped them up."
Now we just need some meat!  This is about a one-pound pork loin roast, which we'll trim up and slice.  First take off the thick layer of fat, if there is one (front left).  If there's a layer of connective tissue underneath the fat, we've found it pretty easy to remove with the following technique:
Flip the roast upside-down so that the layer you want to trim is on the bottom.  Then press down on the roast while using the knife to shave off the bottom sixteenth of an inch or so, using the flat cutting board surface as a guide.  Just like removing the skin from a fish fillet.
Clean up any spots you didn't catch, and you'll have a nice clean roast to slice!  Also, don't throw out the fat you trimmed off--we'll make soap with it next weekend!
Slice up the roast as thin as you can (about a quarter inch or so)--often times the slices are pounded to make them even thinner, but we've got a nice tender pork loin to start with, so we'll just leave it unpounded.  Then dredge each slice in the flour...
...then the egg, which will stick to the flour better than just the meat...
...then the seasoned bread crumbs.  Use a pair of tongs for these steps, or your fingers will accumulate several layers of breading.  As tasty as your fingers would be if you fried them (Katie says, "Don't try that."), your dexterity will be considerably less.
For us, it really whets our appetite to collect the cutlets on a plate.  Doesn't that look nice?
Meanwhile, get some oil heating in a frying pan (or butter if you're feeling really naughty), about a quarter to a half inch in the bottom.  It will still work if your stove isn't level.  (We'll prove it below!)  We put it on medium heat, and it turned out to be about right.  We're not sure what the actual temperature was, but since it worked, we'll say it was probably around 370 °F.
When the oil is hot enough, add some of the cutlets to the pan.  If the stove isn't level, make sure to swish the oil around once the cutlets are in.  Also, make sure to include the littlest pieces left over at the end of the slicing operation (schnitzelettes?) in the first batch, so you can sample right away after the first batch.  When cooked meat starts to show through the top around the edges as the first side is cooking (3-4 minutes), flip the pieces and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
Collect the finished pieces on a plate.  If plates could feel emotion, this one would probably be a happy plate.
Meanwhile, slice and saute a pound of mushrooms, and make a white sauce.  For the white sauce, we melted a half-stick (four tablespoons) of butter and stirred in two heaping teaspoons of flour to make kind of a light roux, then added a cup and a half of milk, a quarter teaspoon salt, and a teaspoon each of pepper, garlic powder, and Katie's Fox Point seasoning (see below).
Top the schnizel with the mushroom sauce and serve with steamed broccoli, roasted root veggies, and pineapple juice left over from making egg grog.  Is that caprice salad on the back plate?  Ooh, that would go good with this, too.  Ist das nicht ein tasty pile?  Ja, das ist ein tasty pile!  Does it nicht make Katie smile?  Ja, it does make Katie smile!  Ohh, die schöne Schnitzelbank!
If there's any of the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs left after breading all the cutlets, mix 'em together and fry 'em up!  They make pretty good croutons, or seasonings for sprinkling on macaroni and cheese, or lots of other things, too!

The Recipe:
0.25 cups flour
2 eggs, beaten
0.75 cups bread crumbs, seasoned with:
   2 teaspoons pepper
   2 teaspoons garlic powder
   1 teaspoon salt
   1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 lb pork loin roast, trimmed and sliced thin
oil for frying

4 tablespoons butter
2 heaping teaspoons flour
1.5 cups milk
1 lb mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Katie's fox point seasoning (1 part salt, 2 parts each garlic powder and pepper, 3 parts green onion powder)
0.25 teaspoon salt

Add oil to frying pan to give 0.25" thick layer and heat to frying temperature (370 °F or so).  While oil is heating, arrange flour, beaten eggs, and seasoned bread crumbs in separate containers, and dredge slices of pork loin first in flour, then in egg, then in bread crumbs.  When oil is heated, fry cutlets in oil until meat begins to change color on top side around edges, then flip and cook opposite side for roughly the same amount of time.  To make sauce, slice and saute mushrooms in oil, set aside.  In small saucepan, melt butter.  When butter is boiling, add flour, stir until mixture is brown and aromatic.  Add milk and seasonings, cook until thick, and stir in mushrooms.  Serve sauce over schnitzel, along with roasted root veggies, steamed broccoli, caprice salad, and pineapple juice.  May substitute broccoli, caprice salad, and pineapple juice with veggies and beverage of your choice.

What's your favorite kind of schnitzel?  How do you prepare your bread crumbs?  Let us know in the comments section below!

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