A schnitzel is a thin, boneless beef, chicken, pork or veal cutlet that is pounded thin and then either breaded using egg, flour and bread crumbs and fried, or simply pan fried without breading. The word comes from the German der schnitz, which means a slice or cut.
Tenderizing tough meat by pounding it is an ancient technique that, according to some food writers, goes back at least as far as Apicus, a Roman cookbook author in the first century BC. From Rome, the army brought Roman culinary skills to northern Italy and, eventually, across the Alps into Germanic countries. By the Middle Ages schnitzel was a popular dish in both northern Italy and what is now Austria.
Costoletta alla Milanese is a rib veal chop (or cutlet on the bone) dipped in egg and bread crumbs, fried gently in butter and served with lemon wedges. Across the Alps, in Austria and Germany, Weiner schnitzel is a boneless veal cutlet taken from the leg, breaded and fried in lard. Some suggest that, while the Milanese version seems the older of the two, they may represent a culinary quarrel between two branches of the Hapsburg family, one Italian and the other Austrian, that both claim to have invented the dish.
Weiner schnitzel literally means schnitzel “in the style of Vienna,” and, by Austrian law, it must be made with veal to merit the title. Nevertheless, all Austrians do not observe this stricture. To quote Raymond Sokolov in The Cook’s Cannon: “Should this dish be made only with veal, as tradition dictates, or can a serious person choose to make it with pork, as many Austrians do? There are other questions perhaps more important than the veal-pork dilemma. There is, for instance, the issue of lard versus vegetable oil (don’t even think about olive oil; butter maybe, but never olive oil). And you might want to consider if a half an hour marination in lemon juice is obligatory for an ideal cutlet. And wouldn’t veal scallopine from a butcher be just as good, if not better, than meat you pounded yourself?”
The Roman army was not the last group to transport the dish. “Chicken fried pork,” a quintessential dish from the American southwest, got its name simply because it is cooked like fried chicken. It is clearly related to the Wiener schnitzel that German immigrants brought to Texas in the mid-1800s. Not limited to pork cutlets, chicken fried steak also is a fixture on diner and truck stop menus across Texas and Oklahoma. And tonkatsu — deep fried breaded pork — is a European- inspired dish said to have been brought to Japan by the Dutch, that became a yoshoku, a dish adapted from western cuisine by Japanese during the Meiji Restoration, from 1868 to the early 1900s.