Last night we celebrated Mrs. Carmela Bonaccorsi, my grandmother, on what would have been her 97th birthday. This is the first year we had to celebrate without her here. There were tears, but also laughter as we came together to share memories and prepare some of the dishes she was most famous for. Although we couldn’t gather the entire family together, many of us found ourselves honoring her memory with cutlets. My cousin in South Carolina, cutlets. My uncle in Florida, cutlets. And me in New York, cutlets. If you knew my grandmother, you’ve likely been fed by her and fallen in love, both with the food and the person. Her cutlets, usually made from thinly sliced and pounded pork loin, were legendary. I remember her making loads of cutlets for family events. They were demolished in no time, with squabbles over who got the last one. I am so pleased to see my children clean their plates when I make cutlets. My eldest son even fights with my husband for any leftovers to be packed into his lunch box. The tradition continues! Yes!!!
As I mentioned earlier, my grandmother used pork for her cutlets, but they are also great with pounded chicken breast or veal. Now, finding the right pork for her cutlets when we moved her from Connecticut to upstate New York, was not easy and actually, never achieved 😆. Where she came from, there’s an Italian market called D & D Market. It has been in operation since 1932! I used to love accompanying her on trips to D & D as a child. Surrounded by amazing Italian foods/specialty items and hearing people communicate in Italian was such an enriching experience. Anyway, D & D Market knows how to prepare the meat for cutlets and not one store/butcher in my area does (according to grandma), but trust me, even if you don’t live near D & D, you can make awesome cutlets! Below is a picture of the master at work in her Connecticut kitchen, using those D & D cutlets 😉 . I’m grateful I had the foresight to break out my camera a few years ago. Seeing her in her element, creating perfection, brings me so much joy.
I sometimes will buy thinly cut, pork loin chops and pound them out myself, but most often, I use chicken breast for this recipe. In general, the chicken breast is not my favorite cut of meat, but pounded out super thin, dredged in a light coating of flour, egg, and freshly fixed breadcrumbs, before being pan-fried in olive oil, I’m a fan. The chicken is extremely tender and the crust is crisp and light, never greasy. I love these cutlets served with roasted peppers, broccoli rabe and some fresh Italian bread, but they are truly wonderful with any pairing of your choice.
As my grandmother did, I fry my cutlets in a large electric skillet. It’s great for keeping the temperature of the oil even and also provides more room. I understand this is not a common piece of kitchen equipment, don’t fret, this recipe is easily done on the stove, in the largest skillet you have. If your pan is accumulating browned bits of loose breading near the end of frying, simply lift them out with a spoon and discard, adding fresh oil to coat the pan.
Although I will make cutlets many times throughout the year, November 14th, my grandmother’s birthday, will always be a must. It’s one of the many ways I choose to pay my respects to this beautiful woman who taught me so very much.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 cups fine, unseasoned breadcrumbs
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1/4 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 cup grated, Pecorino Romano (buy the real stuff, grate on a microplain or box grater)
- black pepper, freshly ground
- 3 lbs. pork, chicken or veal, thinly sliced and pounded to about 1/8 – 1/4 inch thickness
- Plenty of olive oil for pan frying
Begin by carefully pounding out your choice of meat. If using chicken breasts, I cut each cutlet in half horizontally before pounding. To be clear, I’m not talking about butterflying the breast. The breast has a wider, thicker part and a more narrow, thinner part. cut across the breast so that you have two pieces that can be pounded out with ease. Many stores will sell chicken that is labeled “chicken cutlets”, but it’s not nearly thin enough for this recipe. Place meat between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound out, using caution to not tear the meat.
Next, place flour, eggs and bread crumbs in 3 separate dredging receptacles. Add milk to the eggs and whisk well. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt to eggs and 1/2 teaspoon salt to breadcrumbs. Add parsley and grated Romano cheese to the breadcrumbs. Now, finish with the freshly ground pepper (a few grinds for each of the 3 dredging mixtures should be enough). Mix each of the dredging mixtures thoroughly.
Dredge the pounded out cutlet in the flour, shaking off excess. Proceed by placing in egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off before placing in breadcrumb mixture. Place dredged cutlet on a large platter and repeat steps with the remaining meat.
Heat olive oil (I use extra virgin) in an electric skillet or large frying pan. If you happen to have an electric skillet, set temp on 350°. The olive oil should come up about 1/4 inch of the sides of your pan whether using an electric pan or a skillet on the stove-top. If using a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Oil is ready to begin frying when hot and shimmering. Fry in batches, flipping when deep, golden brown. Continue cooking on the flipped side until deep, golden brown as well. Remove cooked cutlet to a platter lined with paper towels to catch the excess oil. Discard oil that has become too cluttered with loose breading, adding new oil as needed to complete entire batch of cutlets.