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Veal Milanese

HISTORY, PLACES, INFORMATION, INTERESTING FACTS
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Veal Milanese is one of the most typical culinary excellences of the city of Milan, together with the famous Risotto and Panettone. Let’s study its origins. Let’s find out how it differs from a specialty generally considered quite similar, the ‘Wiener Schnitzel’. Finally, let’s savor its most authentic taste in the most traditional Milanese restaurants.

The origins of Veal Milanese.

The origins of Veal Milanese.

Over the years, the search for the true origins of Veal Milanese has caused a large number of controversies, not least the one relating to its connection with another specialty that, in some respects, is quite similar: the ‘Wiener Schnitzel’.
At present, the oldest evidence relating to the Milanese delicacy is a list of courses served in 1134 to the monks of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio (*1), to which the writer Pietro Verri refers in his ‘History of Milan’ (*2). This list contains, among the rest, the ‘lombolos cum panitio’, considered by many a primitive form of the Veal Milanese.
Although the nature of the ‘lombolos’ has been largely endorsed (*3), a good number of scholars still questions it, thus reopening the long-standing diatribe.

*1: These courses were served on the occasion of a celebratory banquet offered by the Abbot of the Basilica.
*2: Here follows a short extract from the list quoted by Verri: “pullos frigidos, gambas de vino, et carnem porcinam frigidam: in secunda, pullos plenos, carnem vaccinam cum piperata, et turtellam de lavezolo: in tertia, pullos rostidos, lombolos cum panitio, et porcellos plenos”.
*3: The Municipality of Milan itself, in the assignment of the De.Co. (Municipal Designation of Origin) to the Veal Milanese, makes clear reference to ‘lombolos cum panitio’ considering them the ancestor of the specialty.

Milan, the city of Veal Milanese.

Milan, one of the most important Italian cities, true heart of the country’s economy, is the county seat of Lombardy Region.

The music for Veal Milanese.

A fascinating Viennese waltz is probably the best choice to accompany the reading of this article.

Veal Milanese, ‘Schnitzel’ and the letter from Count Attems.

Veal Milanese, ‘Schnitzel’ and the letter from Count Attems.

As already mentioned, the origins of Veal Milanese have always been controversial. One of the main consequences of the lack of reliable information has been the emergence of a long-standing, mostly unjustified, dispute to determine whether the recipe for Wiener Schnitzel, the ‘Viennese cutlet’, derives from that of Veal Milanese or vice versa. The supporters of the primacy of Vial Milanese often refer, as proof, to a letter sent by Count Attems, aide-de-camp to Franz Joseph, in which the Austrian nobleman, as a side note of a report on the work of Marshal Radetzky, would have expressed such praises towards the Milanese specialty to entice the emperor to introduce it in his own country. This story, although undoubtedly fascinating, can be considered nothing more than a legend, especially in light of these facts:

  • There is no trace of the letter in any archive;
  • Although the noble Attems family exists, no Count Attems has ever been aide-de-camp to Emperor Franz Joseph;

It would also be good to reflect upon the fact that the emperor, very busy at the time with the turbulent Milan, could hardly have had the chance (or the will) to ‘sponsor’ a recipe, no matter how exquisite.

WebFoodCulture: the most traditional restaurants.

Where to eat the original veal milanese?

The following list includes some of the most traditional Milanese restaurants, where it’s possible to savor the original Veal Milanese.

  • Antica Trattoria della Pesa
    Viale Pasubio, 10 – 20154 Milan (Italy)
    Official website;
  • Trattoria del Nuovo Macello
    Via Cesare Lombroso, 20 – 20137 Milan (Italy)
    Official website;
  • Osteria Brunello
    Corso Garibaldi, 117 – 20121 Milan (Italy)
    Official website;
Veal Milanese.

‘Completing’ the Veal Milanese.

The most traditional Milanese cookbooks suggest that when the ‘costoletta’ is ready to be served, it should be ‘completed’ (‘finita’), wrapping the extremity of the bone in paper or silver foil. This way it can be grabbed without getting dirty.

Possible French origins for Veal Milanese.

Possible French origins for Veal Milanese.

An interesting hypothesis, that should not be underestimated, has taken hold recently among some historians: according to it, the recipe for Veal Milanese may have French origins. This shouldn’t surprise too much, considering that the name itself of the Italian specialty, ‘costoletta’, derives from the French ‘côtelette’. These scholars think that a specialty similar to Veal Milanese could have been part of French culinary tradition since, at least, the first half of the 18th century: its introduction in Milan would have happened with the arrival in the city of Napoleon’s soldiers engaged in the Italian Campaign.

The healing properties of ‘golden’ food.

The healing properties of ‘golden’ food.

Very ancient is the habit of the wealthiest people to garnish dishes with thin gold leaves, not only as a display of opulence but also in the belief that ingesting the precious metal can be particularly healthy.

This practice was (and still is) forbidden to the poor classes, who immediately found an alternative: eating food that had at least the color of gold. Among this food, the fried specialties with golden reflections, such as Veal Milanese.

Veal Milanese and Wiener Schnitzel compared.

Veal Milanese and Wiener Schnitzel compared.

Until documents more reliable than the letter of Count Attems will be found, it’s impossible to establish with precision which of the two cutlets, the Veal Milanese and the Wiener Schnitzel, can boast the oldest tradition. It follows that it’s equally impossible to understand whether one derives from the other. What can be done is to compare the two specialties: a useful exercise to highlight the specific characteristics distinguishing each of them.

Veal Milanese.

Veal Milanese.
Ingredients:

  • Veal chops;
  • Bread crumbs;
  • Butter;
  • Eggs;
  • Salt;
Wiener Schnitzel.

Wiener Schnitzel.
Ingredients:

  • Veal, pork or turkey;
  • Flour;
  • Bread crumbs;
  • Lard;
  • Eggs;
  • Salt;

Here follows the list of the main differences between the two specialties:

Meat:
> Veal Milanese: Only veal chops from the loin (including bone);
> Wiener Schnitzel: Veal meat from the rump or the flank (without bone). Pork meat is used for the ‘Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein’, chicken meat for the ‘Huhnerschnitzel’;

 

Appearance:
> Veal Milanese: The slices usually are 2/4 centimetres high;
Wiener Schnitzel: The slices are wide and thin;

 

Preparation:
> Veal Milanese: The meat is wet with egg mixture and coated with breadcrumbs;
Wiener Schnitzel: The meat is dredged in flour, wet with egg mixture and coated with breadcrumbs;

 

Cooking:
> Veal Milanese: The original Milanese must be fried in butter;
Wiener Schnitzel: The Schnitzel is fried in lard;

 

Seasoning:
> Veal Milanese: Melted butter;
Wiener Schnitzel: Lemon;

‘Cotoletta’ or ‘Costoletta’ ?

‘Cotoletta’ or ‘Costoletta’ ?

As already mentioned in this article, Veal Milanese is one of those specialties whose origins are extremely uncertain. This has caused, over the years, many disputes, such as the one concerning its name.

There are two names that can be used for Veal Milanese in the Italian language:

  • ‘Cotoletta’: a generic term that refers both to the classic recipe, using meat including bone, and to the one using meat without the bone;
  • ‘Costoletta’: a term that refers only to the classic recipe using meat including bone.
    The citizens of Milan often use the dialectal term ‘cotelètta’ (pronounced ‘cutulèta’) to indicate the specialty;
The ‘elephant ear’ cutlet.

The ‘elephant ear’ cutlet.

A particular type of cutlet is served in many Italian restaurants: its name is ‘orecchia di elefante’ (elephant ear) for its typical shape. It’s very different from the Veal Milanese since it’s made with turkey and seasoned with lemon instead of butter. The slices are pressed until they become large and thin. The specialty is, in a way, quite similar to the Wiener Schnitzel.

‘Tonkatsu’: the Japanese cutlet.

‘Tonkatsu’: the Japanese cutlet.

Japan has its cutlet: its name is ‘tonkatsu’ or ‘katsuretsu’. The origins of this specialty are European, but its recipe has been slightly modified in the Nineteenth Century according to local taste. The Japanese cutlet is made with pork meat, dredged in flour, wet with egg, coated with breadcrumbs (the ‘panko’) and fried. It is usually served in small pieces, easier to get with sticks, or inside a sandwich (the ‘katsu sando’). 

‘Chicken Fried Steak’: the US cultet.

‘Chicken Fried Steak’: the US cultet.

Cutlets arrived in the United States thanks to the Austrian and German immigrants who settled in Texas during the Nineteenth Century. The ‘country fried steak’ is made with veal or pork, whereas turkey is used for the ‘chicken fried steak’.
In order to prepare it, meat is dredged in flour, wet with egg, coated with breadcrumbs and fried. The American cutlet is usually served with different types of savory creams

The right beverage for Veal Milanese.

The right beverage for Veal Milanese.

What to drink with a Milanese cutlet? A good choice is a red sparkling wine, fresh, quite tasty, medium warm and quite tannic. For example a ‘Bonarda’ from Oltrepò Pavese DOC.

  • Its acidity, the effervescence and the saltiness balance the fat of the butter and the sweet tendency of the fried bread coating;
  • Its alcohol and tannicity balance the succulence of the meat and the greasiness of the frying.

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