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Food

Chicken Milanese Has Its Moment

Posted June 12, 2018 6:01 p.m. EDT

It’s an excellent moment for cutlets Milanese.

Made from veal, chicken or pork coated in fine breadcrumbs or flaky panko, they seem to be showing up everywhere, in variations satisfying and classic, thrilling and new.

I’ve sampled the chuletas (breaded and fried pork tenderloin) at Mita’s in Cincinnati, where I dunked slices in guacamole as if they were the meatiest of chips. In New York, you can get pork collar Milanese with aioli and apricot mostarda at Simon and the Whale, or an olive relish-topped chicken rendition, covered in arugula, at Monkey Bar, where my colleague David Tanis is the chef.

More traditionally, though, at old-school Italian restaurants, bone-in veal chops are pounded until wide enough to flop over the sides of a dinner plate, then fried until shatteringly crisp. As long as the breading is brittle and the meat tender and well seasoned, you can’t go wrong.

This recipe was inspired by the one served at Café Altro Paradiso in SoHo. There, the chef Ignacio Mattos uses panko for a particularly airy, feathery crunch around the juicy meat.

His choice of chicken over the more traditional veal or pork also nudges the dish toward lightness.

“I prefer chicken because it’s leaner,” he said. “The fried crumbs already add plenty of richness.”

I followed his lead, using chicken breasts pounded thin, and panko, which I mixed with grated Parmesan for complexity. Then, I concocted a Caprese-inspired salad from ripe cherry tomatoes tossed with garlic-basil oil and cubes of milky mozzarella as a topping, instead of arugula or other leafy greens.

Mattos approved, particularly of the Parmesan in the crust, which he’d had in some of the many versions he ate while growing up in Uruguay.

“I have an Italian heritage,” he said. “In Uruguay and Argentina, the Italian influence in cooking is very strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if more Milanese was eaten there per capita than anywhere else in the world.”

For him, a Milanese sandwich — a cold, fried cutlet stuffed into a roll with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise — is the perfect comfort food. It’s what he craves, late at night after work, when he’ll stop to pick one up from a little place on his way home.

“It’s a little like pizza,” he said. “Even when it’s bad, it’s still really good.”

——

Chicken Milanese With Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Salad

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 45 minutes

1 1/2 pounds chicken cutlets, pounded 1/4-inch thick

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2/3 cup basil leaves

1 fat garlic clove, finely grated or minced

1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 large eggs, beaten

1 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Lemon wedges, for serving

1. Lightly season chicken cutlets all over with salt and pepper; let rest while you make the basil oil.

2. In a blender or food processor, combine oil, basil, garlic and salt to taste; purée until smooth.

3. In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes and mozzarella with about half of the basil oil and salt to taste. Set aside.

4. Place flour in a shallow bowl or plate. Pour eggs into another shallow dish; combine panko and Parmesan in a third dish.

5. In a large skillet, melt oil and butter over medium heat. As it heats, dip a chicken cutlet in flour, shake off excess, then dip in eggs. Shake off excess, then dip both sides in panko mixture and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining cutlets.

6. When oil is hot, fry 2 cutlets at a time until bottoms are golden, about 3 minutes. Flip and fry until golden and crispy all over, about another 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle immediately with salt.

7. Taste tomato-mozzarella salad and add more salt and/or basil oil if needed. Serve cutlets topped with a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of remaining basil oil and tomato-mozzarella salad.

And to Drink …

With this crisp, beautiful blank canvas of a dish, almost any good, dry, medium-bodied white wine will go well. And the more character, the better. Holding onto an excellent dry riesling from Austria or Alsace? Here’s your chance to open it. A white Burgundy would be delicious, as would a chenin blanc from Vouvray or Savennières. You could try one of the better Etna Biancos, like the Pietra Marina from Benanti. A rich Champagne or sparkling Vouvray would be wonderful. And if you wanted a red, why not? A middle-aged Barbaresco or a younger Langhe Rosso would hit the spot. Frankly, as long as the wine — white, red or sparkling — is dry, with sufficient acidity and no apparent oakiness, it would be hard to go wrong.

— ERIC ASIMOV