Forget the flour and eggs: This one-step breading method makes it easy to flash-fry cutlets any night of the week
Whether it’s for schnitzel, chicken fried steak, or a perfectly fried chicken thigh, nearly every meat-eating, serious home cook has experimented with three-step breading a cutlet of some variety or another. Maybe they’ve even tried knocking that down to two steps, skipping the flour and using only the egg and breadcrumbs, as is sometimes done for a veal milanese or milanesa de res.
But if you’re like me, making that level of mess just isn’t something you’re keen to do very often. There are all the bowls that don’t fit in the dishwasher. There are the invariably gloopy fingers, even if you’re using a fork or three. No matter how happy the resulting cutlets make everyone, you hesitate to make them again any time soon, a reluctance shared by whoever is stuck cleaning the kitchen.
Enter: flash-fried cutlets, made with a simple one-step breading method. They are inspired by silpancho, a dish my sister, Leah Su Quiroga (a former Chez Panisse head chef), learned in her husband’s hometown of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Silpancho, the town’s signature dish, is a comforting plate of rice, fried potatoes, and a super thin, fried beef cutlet, topped with salsa and a fried egg (or two).
Most silpancho makers press — or pound — the meat directly into fine breadcrumbs, and some even use ground meat rather than a true cutlet. Shocking, I know. No flour or egg required? Doesn’t the breading just slide right off the meat?
Turns out, it doesn’t. Sure, if you’re breading something slick or dry — say, mushrooms, onions, or zucchini slices — you’re going to need that flour and egg. But that’s not necessarily the case with meat, especially if it’s pounded paper thin — or easier yet, ground.
In the years since we learned how to make silpancho, we’ve been pressing meat directly into breadcrumbs on a regular basis. We prefer using ground meat, which makes it easier, faster, and cheaper. Plus, it’s exceptionally versatile. You can use any type of ground meat you want, even in combination.
To make the cutlets, all you have to do is pour an even layer of breadcrumbs onto a flat, rimmed surface (a baking sheet is great, but I prefer something small enough to pop into the dishwasher, like a flat plate with an outer lip). Roll a little meatball, set it on the breadcrumbs, and flatten it as thin as you can without it falling apart. Press some breadcrumbs on top or flip it over to coat both sides. To save time (and avoid dirtying a mixing bowl), we just sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the breaded cutlets before frying. (You could season while flattening, but then you run the risk of oversalting the breadcrumbs as you work through all of your meat.) Then a quick shallow fry and you’re done. We’re partial to serving them simply, alongside a bright salad. They’re also great in a sandwich with a fried egg, crisp lettuce, and something pickley, or, recalling traditional silpancho, served with rice, a fried egg, and salsa. The kids devour them any which way — including cold, straight out of the fridge — as long as ketchup is involved.
To make the cutlets Asian style, use half ground pork and half crumbled tofu, along with some grated onion and salt and pepper. (You’ll need one mixing bowl for this version.) Or, as an alternative to tofu, use thawed riced cauliflower, which is my favorite way to sneak more vegetables into my children. These take a little more care to bread, and you’ll want to keep them a bit thicker so they don’t fall apart. Instead of pressing them into breadcrumbs on a plate, I press the cutlets between two slightly cupped hands full of breadcrumbs (panko rules here). Inspired by our favorite Japanese katsu restaurants, we serve them with a plate of steaming short-grain white rice, finely shredded green cabbage, and a big dollop of pink sauce (mayo meets ketchup or sriracha).
So put your three bowls away. This one simple method will give you many terrific meals!
Cammie Kim Lin is a writing professor at New York University and co-author of (Serious) New Cook: Recipes, Tips, & Techniques,
Molly DeCoudreaux is a food photographer based in San Francisco.