Schnitzel, a thinly pounded, breaded, and fried cutlet, is an egalitarian dish. It can be made with just about any meat, it’s universally adored, and it’s easy to make.
The most well-known schnitzel is the Wiener schnitzel, arguably Austria’s national dish. It’s made with thinly pounded veal, breaded with a distinctive undulating crust, and is, at the very least, the size of a dinner plate. All it needs is a spritz of lemon juice to finish it off.
Inspired by the flavors, textures, and techniques used to make Wiener schnitzel, I’m focusing my sights on chicken. Chicken schnitzel is made by pounding chicken breasts until 1/8- to 1/4-inch thin, breading them in fine breadcrumbs, and frying them until golden brown and crispy. The chicken stays moist and tender.
Fresh lemon juice is squeezed over the cutlets to serve—it’s bright, tart, and helps cut through the grease. The breading is light, crisp, and doesn’t soak up much oil as long as you keep the frying oil at the right temperature (more on that below). While fried, it doesn’t feel like a heavy meal.
This will become a mainstay in your kitchen. Assemble it ahead of time for a quick, satisfying weeknight dinner or impress your guests by serving it along with your favorite sides. It’s sure to be a hit!
Schnitzel and Other Fried Cutlets
Schnitzel stems from the German word for “slice” referring to thinly sliced meat coated in breadcrumbs and fried. There are cultures across the world that have similarly prepared dishes — like escalope in France, milanesa in parts of South America, milanese in Italy, and katsu in Japan, among many more.
By comparison schnitzel tends to be pounded thinner than other kinds of cutlets. Also, the breadcrumbs are very fine. This results in a light, thin crust that puffs up as it fries, creating a distinctive look that sort of resembles rolling hills.
Pound Your Chicken Like a Pro
Pounding the chicken is a great way to release energy, but do not to pound it too hard. You don’t want to tear the meat. The flat side of a meat tenderizer is great for this job or you can use the bottom of a small frying pan. Instead of pounding the chicken straight down, use a downward and slightly outward motion to push the meat away from its center. This both flattens and widens the chicken, which will then look much bigger.
The Best Oil for Frying
Use vegetable, peanut, or canola oil for frying the chicken. The amount of oil depends on the size of your frying pan. I recommend filling it about 1/2 inch deep, but keep in mind that the oil should never come more than halfway up the sides of the pan. Otherwise, it may overflow while you fry.
The frying oil should be at around 350°F, which can be measured with a thermometer.
You can test the temperature of the oil by adding a sprinkle of breadcrumbs. If they sink to the bottom, it’s not hot enough. If they bubble up, the oil is ready for frying.
- Use pork, turkey, or veal cutlets—the method is exactly the same.
- Schnitzel can be made vegetarian by using seitan as your protein.
- Make it vegan by using a plant-based milk instead of the eggs.
- Make it gluten-free by using gluten-free breadcrumbs.
- Want a thicker and crunchier crust, use panko breadcrumbs.
- You can use Dijon mustard instead of German mustard, or even leave it out completely.
What to Serve With Chicken Schnitzel
Schnitzel is commonly served with a simple side like German potato salad, German cucumber salad, French fries, or buttered egg noodles. These are truly simple, classic options—classics are classics for a reason! You could opt to shake it up with a green salad, mashed potatoes, couscous, coleslaw, sautéed greens, or these green beans.
Leftovers, cold or reheated, are delicious in a sandwich, layered between thick slices of toasted bread (or a bun) with a smear of mustard and sliced onions or pickles.
Plan Ahead for Your Schnitzel
Schnitzel is best served hot, right out of the frying pan, but you can plan ahead by pounding the chicken a day in advance and refrigerating it tightly covered. The next day, bread and fry it right before serving. I wouldn’t recommend breading it ahead of time because the breading gets soggy and becomes hard to work with.
Yes! Serve Fried Chicken on a Weeknight
I like Löwensenf Extra Hot German mustard. Dijon mustard is a perfectly good substitution.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/2 tablespoon German mustard
1 1/2 cups fine dry breadcrumbs
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed of excess fat
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
Canola oil, for frying
1/2 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving
Prepare the breading station:
Set 4 large, shallow bowls or quarter sheet trays side by side in a row. Add flour in the leftmost bowl. Add the eggs and mustard into the second bowl. Whisk with a fork until combined well. Add the breadcrumbs into the third bowl. Leave the last one empty. You’ll place your breaded chicken on it.
Prepare the chicken:
Place the chicken breasts on a cutting board and pat them dry with paper towels. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut each chicken breast horizontally in half lengthwise—you should have 4 thin chicken cutlets that are about the same size. Stack the cutlets on one side of the cutting board to make room for pounding them.
Spread a large piece of plastic wrap (at least 7- x 11-inch big) on the cutting board and place one cutlet on it. Fold the plastic over the cutlet, leaving some space around for the cutlet to spread as you pound it.
Use the smooth side of a meat tenderizer or the bottom of a small frying pan to pound the cutlet until it’s 1/8 to 1/4 inch thin. Be firm but gentle so that the chicken does not tear. The goal is to get an evenly thin cutlet. Pound the remaining cutlets, one at a time, using the same plastic wrap and replacing it if it tears.
Bread the chicken:
Evenly season the cutlets with 1 teaspoon salt.
Bread one cutlet at a time. Dredge it on both sides with flour, shaking off any excess. Dip it in the egg mixture, letting any excess drip off. Finally, place the cutlet in the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs on top and use your hands to gently press them onto the cutlet. Transfer the breaded cutlet into the last bowl.
Repeat with the remaining cutlets.
Fry the chicken and serve:
Set a large frying pan over medium heat and add enough oil until it’s about 1/2 inch deep. Make sure the oil does not come up more than halfway up the sides of the pan. Heat it to approximately 350°F. Don’t have a deep fry thermometer? Sprinkle a pinch of breadcrumbs into the oil. They’ll bubble up right away when ready.
Carefully add the breaded cutlets in a single layer. You may need to cook them in 2 batches.
Fry them for 2 to 3 minutes. Use a large metal spoon to carefully scoop up hot oil and pour it over the top of the schnitzels as they fry—this is called basting. When the bottoms are golden brown and crisp, use tongs to flip them and fry the other side for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.
If you’d like, keep the fried schnitzels warm in a 200°F oven. Place them on a rack set over a baking sheet.
Transfer the chicken schnitzels onto a serving platter, sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and serve immediately with lemon wedges.
Leftovers, a rare but potential occurrence, can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Some people actually enjoy it cold (I’m one of them)! Cube it for a tossed salad or cut it into strips and dip it in mustard straight from the fridge.
The best way to warm it up: Preheat your oven to 400°F. Place the chicken on a baking sheet and reheat it for about 15 minutes, flipping it once halfway through.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 11g||14%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||11%|
|Total Carbohydrate 60g||22%|
|Dietary Fiber 7g||27%|
|Total Sugars 9g|
|Vitamin C 98mg||490%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|