Wiener Schnitzel and Gene’s Sausage Shop Chicago
The first leg of my Christmas 2011 adventures started out with a trip to Chicago to say good-bye to my uncle who had passed away prior to Thanksgiving (sad) and to meet my brand-new nephew (happy). My youngest sister’s boyfriend is a good, solid home cook and fellow food lover, so a stop at Gene’s Sausage Shop did not seem out of the question on his first trip to the Windy City. I tried to prep him for it by explaining that he was going to be entering a “meat emporium,” as if that could adequately describe the culinary wonders that awaited him there.
My first trip to Gene’s was a little over a year ago when I was visiting my brother in Chicago. We stopped by the cemetery in the formerly-German part of town to visit the graves on my mother’s side of the family. I’m about a quarter-ish of German descent, mostly on my mother’s side, although on my dad’s side about 300 or so years ago someone Dutch married someone German in Philadelphia so there’s a smidgen from there, too. We combined this excursion with a saunter around the shops in Lincoln Park including this one, which is not original to the neighborhood.
At the shop, I discovered that my toddler nephew had a taste for their spiced, meaty Krakow sausage which he devoured as soon as he could grab a fistful of it from his dad. Although I was bit more polite than my nephew, I, too, was taken with the samples and the tastes displayed all around me. It’s still astonishing to me when I study the history of cuisine in the United States and find out how Teutonic-influenced our diet is as I don’t feel like I grew up eating the particular dishes from that area. One of my friends who is French was surprised that I hadn’t realized the level of German inflection in our “American” dishes, too, but that probably goes to show you how foods that are at one time considered ethnic and weird can become assimilated and mainstream (think cilantro and pesto).
My sister’s boyfriend seemed to be no less taken with the variety of wursts, smoked meats, sausages (fresh and prepared), salads, and other gastronomic delights from which to choose at the shop. When he found out that they were out of Wiener Schnitzel (made with veal, not pork), he decided on the spot that he would fix some for dinner that night. As it was the first night of Hanukkah, and I had woken up with a wicked craving for latkes, we threw in some potato pancakes for good measure.
Adding some of their prepared salads, and a Central European-inspired meal was in the works. The recipe for the schnitzel is a bit non-traditional, but, also being of German ancestry and more recently than that of my family, my sister’s boyfriend assures me that this is the way he is used to making it. I generally have done the flour-egg-breadcrumb variety. This one, using just three ingredients (six if you count the salt, pepper, and oil), was quick and tasty and would make a great weeknight supper. I think my ancestors would be interested to see that some of the foods they might have eaten still have a place on our table today.
Wiener Schnitzel by Mr. Brown
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Serving Size: 4 adults
4 Veal cutlets, pounded thinly to about 1/4 inch
1 Tbsp. Mustard (he used Thomy mild)
1/2 cup Breadcrumbs (fresh if you can get them)
Black Pepper, freshly ground
Canola Oil for frying
Take each of the cutlets and spread a thin layer of mustard on one side. Sprinkle a little salt and a few grinds of pepper on top of that.
Heat canola oil in a large (12-inches or larger) skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. Put in 1-2 cutlets, taking care not to over-crowd them. Cook cutlets for 2-3 minutes on first side until breadcrumbs are golden brown. Flip meat over and cook on second side for 2-3 minutes more. Because it is so thin, the veal will cook quickly.
The heat and oil need to be hot enough to make the breadcrumbs crisp but not so hot that the meat burns. If cooking the cutlets in batches, take care to wipe out the pan and add more oil each time before you put in an uncooked cutlet. That way, you will not make a smoky, hot mess in the kitchen. Place cooked cutlet briefly on a paper towel after removing it from the pan to pat any leftover oil off of it. Serve immediately.
Typically, wiener schnitzel is served with a slice of lemon on the side. Vinegar-based potato salad, cucumber salad, and a dollop of a sweet preserve might also be on the plate to go with the meat. Just be sure to serve it with your favorite beer to capture the mood of feasting in Europe.