I love it when I am inspired by something I eat in a restaurant -- when it's worth every penny and I can't stop thinking about it. Adversely, I dislike it when I'm disgusted by something I eat in a restaurant -- a waste of money I can't stop thinking about. I abhor it when I order a restaurant meal, fall in love with it, and a few weeks later, order it again and hate it. Dining in a college town is a frustrating sport -- inconsistency seems to reign supreme. With the exception of three now two establishments, I avoid it. That said, it's the reason a great percentage of our college-town's locals are some of the finest home cooks you'll ever meet -- we've grown weary of visiting any number of eateries "on a wing and a prayer" (relying on hope to see us through). Enough said.
"Alla Milanese" (mee-lah-NEH-zeh) is Italian for "in the style of Milan" and refers to a thin-sliced and lightly-pounded protein dredged in flour, dipped in beaten egg and a light-coating of breadcrumbs. It's quickly-sautéed in butter and/or olive oil until a pretty yellow-golden. It's crispy on the outside, fork-tender, and juicy on the inside. It gets a squirt of fresh lemon juice, a parsley garnish and is served the moment it comes out of the skillet. It is elegantly delicate. The original version of the dish, "la cotoletta (the cutlet)" or "cotoletta alla Milanese", a typical "secondo" (second course) to a meal in Milan, refers exclusively to a veal cutlet. I am not a fan of grated cheese mixed into the breadcrumbs or used as a garnish, but, that choice is yours.
Milan is Italy's financial, industrial, cultural and fashion capital. Home to the Italian stock exchange, it is to Italy what New York City is to the USA -- diverse and affluent. The best way to define the cuisine is "rich" with milk, cream, butter and cheese. Butter is the fat of choice and with it they love to prepare beef and veal dishes. The famous Milanese saying, "La bocce l'è manga stracca sel la san ò de vacca", translates to, "the mouth is not tired enough if it doesn't taste of cow". It means: for lunch or dinner, the meal ends by eating a piece of cheese. While pasta is popular, rice is more popular and they explain it's because rice absorbs more cheese, butter and broth than pasta (their signature rice and risotto dishes contain pricey saffron too).
When did classic veal Milanese transition to chicken Milanese?
Veal milanese is what I grew up eating when my family went to Italian-American restaurants -- and loved every crispy-textured, lemony-buttery bite. When I was in my early '20's, veal milanese is one of the first fancy-schmancy, cheffy "flash-in-the-pan" dinners I entertained guests with in the latter 1970's and '80's -- and in my electric skillet, I could make four servings at once.
Then, in the 1990's, we foodies were told, by the powers-that-be, to cut back on eggs and red meat. I had never encountered a boneless, skinless chicken breast prior to that, which is when they began mass-marketing them across America. The boneless, skinless chicken breast revolution had begun. They began replacing fat, juicy chops and steaks everywhere. I refer to this as America's "rubber-chicken dinner" period. Milanese, which was an easy target, became a victim.
While the boneless, skinless chicken breast replaced the veal cutlet or escalope with ease, I was never quite satisfied with it. Even when butterflied and/or pounded, I've always found the boneless, skinless breast to be a compromise in this dish. Unlike naturally tender veal, chicken needs to be cooked to a safe 165 degree temperature*, which no matter how you slice or tenderize it, dries it out. My solution was to use the naturally tender chicken breast tenderloin to make Milanese. Once I 'switched', I liked the dish better prepared with thinly but lightly-pounded chicken tenders (chicken paillards) than my original and classic veal Milanese.
* Note: In the case of Milanese, the pounded chicken breast tenderloins should be slightly-firm to the touch and slightly-pink in the center when you are removing them from the skillet. An internal temperature of 160°-162° is fine (actually perfect). Once removed from the skillet and allowed to rest a few moments, carry-over heat will continue cooking them to the proper temperature.
A bit about paillard (PI-yahrd): This French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sautéed. A paillard is not smashed to smithereens. Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness -- to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly. It's usually done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize the subject-at-hand. To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while your bravado is amusing, you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.
Are you ready to see how easy this 25-minute meal is to make?
~ Step 2. Lightly season the tops of the pounded tenderloins with:
Lemon and Pepper Seasoning
~ Step 3. Allow chicken to rest 5 minutes, so the flour can absorb moisture. During this time, sprinkle a light layer of flour in bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole, and, in a small bowl, whisk 4 large eggs with 2 tablespoons water.
~Step 4. Pick the chicken tenders up and flip them over, placing them, floured sides down in the lightly-floured casserole. Season and flour the second sides (now the top sides) and set aside 5 additional minutes. Add the whisked eggs to the casserole, and allow the chicken to rest in the egg liquid, stopping to "flip-flop" the chicken around in the eggs 2 or 3 times for 5 last minutes.
~Step 5. In each of two, shallow 9" pie-type dishes, place 3/4 cup dried breadcrumbs (I use either French-style breadcrumbs or Japanese-style panko for their extra-crispy texture). Place four chicken cutlets in each dish and coat in the crumbs, taking the time, 2-3 minutes, to stop and "flip-flop" them 2-3 times, to make sure they are evenly and completely coated. Taking a few minutes to do this insures the crumbs will stay in place as they sauté -- because they've absorbed moisture from the eggs.
Increase heat to medium- medium-high (240º-250º). Add all of the cutlets to the skillet. Sauté, until they're a nice light-golden color on both sides, turning only once, about 4-5 minutes per side, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent over-browning (which will dry them out).
Note: If doubling or tripling the recipe to feed 8-12 people, transfer cooked cutlets to a wire cooling rack that has been placed on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking sheet lined with parchment in a modest 225°-250º oven (for up to 30 minutes) while continuing to dredge, dip, coat and fry.
Portion & sprinkle w/sea salt & garnish w/lemon & parsley:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 2, 9" pie dishes; 16" electric skillet; long-handled fork and/or spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack
Cook's Note: For a similar dish (a variation of the same theme without the crispy breadcrumb coating), containing white wine, capers and lemon, click into Categories 12, 20 or 26 to read my recipe ~ For those Times When Ya Just Gotta Have Piccata ~. In Italian, "piccata" translates to "piquant" or "tangy" or "zesty", and, in the case of this recipe, a few pats of cold butter are stirred into the pan-drippings to make a tangy sauce for drizzling over the top of the finished dish.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)