Veal is a chameleonlike meat, offering skilled cooks a range of cooking options and sauces. One simple but much-loved preparation is the veal cutlet, a piece of veal pounded thin and breaded. These are traditionally fried, a technique that scores high for flavor but less so for health. By breaking from tradition, you can improve the healthfulness of the dish and still enjoy the delicate flavor of veal.
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As with many classic dishes, frugality inspired veal cutlets. A piece of veal that might only yield two or three thick chops can provide thin-pounded cutlets for a large family, a key consideration in the centuries when meat was an occasional luxury, rather than a daily staple. Once bulked up with breadcrumbs the thin slices of veal gave the impression of a generous portion, and the crumbs made them more filling. Pounding the veal also made it possible to use tougher cuts from the leg or breast, because it physically frays the dense muscle fibers and makes the meat easier to chew.
Frying the cutlets ensures a richly golden crust of breadcrumbs and correspondingly satisfying flavor, but it also adds fat to the finished dish. The key to making fried cutlets more healthful is careful selection of your cooking fat. For example, Wiener schnitzel is traditionally cooked in clarified butter, which adds a wonderful flavor but also a significant quantity of saturated fat. Choosing a fat higher in monounsaturates, such as mid-oleic sunflower oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil or an extra-light olive oil, can make the dish significantly heart-healthier. If you're preparing the cutlets as part of a Mediterranean-inspired dish, you might use extra-virgin olive oil as your cooking fat to infuse the cutlets with flavor.
Taking It to the Sheet
If you'd rather not fry veal cutlets, consider baking them. A parchment-lined sheet pan can hold a lot of cutlets, which is especially convenient when you're having company. Spray each cutlet lightly with pan spray or an oil mister, choosing your oil as carefully as you would for frying. Turn the cutlets and mist them again, so there's a fine layer of oil on each. The oil helps your cutlets brown and crisp, giving a flavor similar to that of fried veal, but with much less fat in the finished dish.
Dare to Bare
The golden coat of breading protects the veal from the heat of cooking, aside from its culinary and visual appeal. But the same thin sheets of veal are served undressed in many equally authentic and traditional recipes. Thin sheets of uncoated veal are usually referred to as paillards or escalopes, and they're much loved for their tenderness and exceptionally rapid cooking. Brush them lightly with herbed oil and grill or broil them briefly, until just done, for an elegant accompaniment to rice and vegetables.