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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chicken Schnitzel with Zigeuner Sauce

Radetzky, maybe responsible for Schnitzel.
Perhaps, as a young English-speaking child, you snickered at the name "Wiener Schnitzel." I probably did too, but now I've come to appreciate this dish. What is Schnitzel? The story goes that Schnitzel, as a concept, was introduced to Austria sometime between 1500 and 1900 by someone. (Awful vague, right? It's hard to answer questions like this, honestly.) Most likely, it came from Italy, where you find veal and chicken scaloppini served on a regular basis—these are cutlets of the meat, pounded thin to cook quickly. Schnitzel bears a strong resemblance to the preparation for the classic Chicken (or Veal) Parmesan dish, where a piece of meat is breaded and cooked under marinara, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese. I like (mostly because I love the music named after him) the theory that credits Marshal Radetzky with bringing the dish to Vienna in 1857 or so, upon his return from fighting in Italy. Other theories include Italian or German soldiers bringing it over to Austria during the 17th century. Regardless, it's become a classic dish in Austria and the world over, to the point that Austria protects the identity of Wiener Schnitzel by legislation. Now that's dedication.

Veal has typically been a somewhat expensive meat, and one with equal amounts of cachet and controversy. I won't touch on that here, because that's not my purview; the point is, however, that nowadays it's common to find schnitzel made from pork and chicken alongside the traditional veal. For many Jews in Europe during the Victorian era, veal was an unattainable luxury, something eaten very rarely, and so chicken schnitzel became a popular replacement. My grandmother, a Viennese woman, made chicken schnitzel often when I was a child.

Schnitzel is a dish that begs for a sauce. Traditionally, it is served with nothing more than a wedge of lemon (and this is how my mother eats it to this day,) but I crave more moisture and flavor on my plate. For this presentation, I will use a German sauce called Zigeunersauce, which is a sauce made with bell peppers, mushrooms, paprika, and tomatoes. (Thanks to a commenter for prompting me to add this:) Zigeuner is a German word referring to the Romani. I'm not certain if this sauce originated with the Romani people, if it is merely named after them for its colorful look, or if it is so called as a nod to its Eastern European origins (where the Romani clearly came from, or settled, or belonged—depending on who you asked in the Victorian era.) I'm going to make my version of Zigeunersauce a little more refined than the traditional version, with smaller cut items, but otherwise will stick to the recipes that I've found.
The finished plate—braised red cabbage, Chicken Schnitzel, and Zigeunersauce

(Please, to any of my German readers, if you have a different recipe than me, feel free to post it in the comments. Hopefully what I've found approximates what you know. I wish I'd been able to get the recipes from my grandmother when she was still alive.)

Frying the Schnitzel
Chicken Schnitzel

All-Purpose Flour
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts
Butter or Oil

1. Trim fat and any remaining tendons/gristle from chicken, and then portion each breast into two equal pieces by cutting. For the purposes of this meal, each person will get one piece. Normally, however, you could serve two or even three pieces. The purpose of this step is to cut them down to a more manageable size, as a full chicken breast sometimes becomes difficult to work with after the next step...
2. Take a meat mallet and, using a flat side, flatten the chicken breast pieces out until they are about 1/4 inch (6-7 mm) thick.
3. Arrange a three-step breading setup before you: On a plate or in a shallow bowl, combine flour with some salt and pepper; the second step is egg with a little splash of milk, beaten to combine well; step three is breadcrumbs, once again seasoned with salt, pepper, and your choice of herbs and spices. For Hanukkah dinner, I used some fresh thyme.
4. Bread your chicken breasts: First, dredge in the flour to coat well. Second, place in the egg and coat well, but do not rub off the flour. Third, coat evenly with breadcrumbs. Place on a pan/platter, and repeat until all breast pieces are breaded. Do not let the pieces touch on the pan, they will want to stick together.
5. Heat your butter or oil in a sauté pan, and cook the chicken until it's golden brown on both sides. Test with one piece and see if it cooks to doneness in the middle during the time in the pan. If it does, excellent. If not, place your browned chicken on a sheet pan and bake in the oven at 350°F/180°C/Gas 4 for a couple minutes until cooked through. This shouldn't be necessary if the chicken is thin enough.
6. Place on a plate for service, and top with the sauce of your choice. Schnitzel, in my opinion, tends to be very dry (due to the breading) and needs a sauce, preferably something creamy. For Hanukkah, we've chosen to go with the following recipe.


2 tablespoons (30 ml) clarified butter
1 cup (240 ml) onion, small dice

2 cups (473 ml) mushrooms, sliced
3 cups (710 ml) bell peppers—red, orange, yellow; small dice
1 teaspoon (5 ml/2 cloves) garlic paste
1 ½ tablespoons (23 ml) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (10 ml) Sweet Hungarian Paprika, ground
2 teaspoons (10 ml) Hot Hungarian Paprika, ground
2 tablespoons (30 ml) tomato paste
14 ounces (420 ml) chicken stock
2 teaspoons (10 ml) honey

1 lemon, juiced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat butter in pan, and sauté onion until it begins to become translucent. Add mushrooms and cook until they are soft and release their liquid.

2. Add bell pepper slices and garlic, and cook 1-2 minutes longer.

3. Sprinkle ground paprika and flour over vegetables and cook for 1-2 minutes. (You are essentially making a roux here, just by another process.)

4. Add the chicken stock, and stir well. Once the flour and stock have fully combined, add the tomato paste.

5. Let mixture cook gently for about 20 minutes. (Important to cook out any residual starchy flavor from the roux.)

6. Season to taste with honey, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.


  1. Awesome! I've been in search of a good Zigeunersauce recipe for ages.

    Also, (probably very stupid) question: where can I procure the two varieties of paprika? I am a Midwestern bumpkin whose local grocery store sells what could be described as "paprika-in-name-only." Should I go through a gourmet spice company or something?

  2. Zigeuner is a German slang term for Gypsy which is in turn a slang term for Romani.

    If you search Gyspy Schnitzel you will find a few other variations.


    Is a good recipe that is close my family's version.

  3. Alistaire—If you look at a larger supermarket, you'll likely find a brand of Paprika called "Pride of Szeged", which comes in a red-and-white tin about 4 inches tall. They sell both varieties, one labeled as "hot" and the other with no qualifier.

    You MAY need to look for a slightly upscale store, but I don't know for sure.

    Anonymous—Good note on the etymology of zigeuner—I'm familiar with it as the "proper" term for the Romani in Yiddish (tziganer) and in French (tzigane). Your recipe is an interesting one.

  4. A couple of questions about the sauce recipe:

    1. You seem to have left out the step where you add the tomato paste. Does it go in at the same time as the chicken stock?

    2. Speaking of which, in the ingredient list you refer to chicken stock; in the instructions it's chicken broth. Which is correct? (For those who may not know, broth is made by boiling the meat; stock is made by boiling the bones. Stock has gelatin in it and so has a very different mouth feel than broth.)

  5. Thank you for catching those—it's what I get for modifying and rewriting recipes. I'll make changes in the post. Should have known better, I make a differentiation between stock and broth in a previous post...

  6. Hi Aaron. Couple things I have picked up after years of making schnitzel for my German husband, Marc. First. I have started using Panko instead of regular breadcrumbs. It adds a bit of crunch & doesn't flake off as easily. Second, a dash of nutmeg & 1/8-1/4 teaspoon (depending on your tastes) of cayane pepper really adds a bit of heat & flavor. Granted these aren't "traditional", but when a born & bred German says it's the best schnitzel he's ever had, to hell with tradition! Lol

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Your opinions and comments always are welcomed, but do be civil... this isn't a kitchen, after all.