the strange destiny of the Wiener Schnitzel

Just like Strauss’s waltzes, the Viennese cutlet – or Wiener Schnitzel – has come to symbolize the Austrian capital. A strange fate for a veal cutlet that actually originated in Italy.

Stop press: the Wiener Schnitzel is from Milan! The name ‘Wiener Schnitzel’ dates from the middle of the nineteenth century and entered Austrian gastronomy by way of historical events. Field Marshal Count Joseph Radetzky, commander-in-chief of the Austrian army in Lombardy-Venetia (and the inspiration for Johann Strauss’s Radetzky March), was writing a report on the situation in Milan for the Habsburg royal family when his aide-de-camp, a young soldier and a serious gourmet, decided to add a note on the Cotoletta alla milanese, the famous Milanese cutlet. Upon his return to Vienna, Field Marshal Radetzky was surprised to hear the Emperor himself request the recipe for the delicious speciality! The Wiener Schnitzel was born.

‘Take a thin slice of veal, tenderize it with a mallet, coat it in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and then dip it in clarified butter to give it a golden colour.’ Those are the instructions given in a cookbook from the late nineteenth century. The recipe has hardly changed, apart from one detail: apparently, gold leaf used to be added to the breading. Thanks to the crisis, people now prefer just breadcrumbs. Nonetheless, the Wiener Schnitzel’s balance of flavour remains wonderful.

Mario Plachutta is the manager of the Gasthaus zur Oper, the number one gastronomical stop-off for lovers of the Wiener Schnitzel; with a sparkle in his eye, he opines that, ‘a cutlet should be puffy, light, crispy and ethereal’. It should never be more than 5 millimetres thick (unlike the Milanese cutlet, which is thicker). The challenge is to find a coating that is light enough to conserve the taste of the veal. An accompanying slice of lemon is served on the plate, with a salad of potatoes and shallots alongside. The veal is sometimes replaced with pork, in the Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein (literally, the Viennese pork cutlet).

Best eaten with an excellent Austrian white wine such as the Salomon 2012 Hochterrassen Grüner Veltliner, Danube/Kremstal.

Guten appetit !

Where to find it ?

Plachuttas, Gasthaus zur Oper
Walfischgasse, 5-7
1010 Vienne
Tél. : 0043 (0)1 51 222 51

The tourist attractions mentioned

The Hofburg The Hofburg
The Hofburg