A Shared Tradition: Pork Cutlets

November 18, 2011

In her biweekly column, A Shared Tradition, CIA grad and amateur food historian Molly Siegler cruises around the world (and into the depths of her pantry) to explore the versatility of a single food item. 

This week: Molly travels to Austria, Japan, Italy, and the American Midwest on the back of the humble pork cutlet.

cutlet william brinson
Photo by William Brinson

- Molly

I love a good food theme and I have a competitive side, so the idea of creating multiple meal themes from one food item felt like a good way to satisfy both appetites. A recent article in the New York Times by one of my favorite writers, Melissa Clark, got me thinking about how versatile a single ingredient could be. How could the same food item -- in this case, the pork cutlet -- be altered to represent different culinary traditions?

One line from an Emily Dickinson poem I was forced to read in eighth grade has always remained trapped in my head: There is no frigate [ship] like a book. I love that line, but I think your plate should be right up there with its ability to transport you. Let’s go!

Austrian
Transport yourself to Vienna with this schnitzel of a meal.

  • Späetzle is an essential and satisfying Austrian side dish. Try this recipe and experiment with a high-heat sauté in butter before serving.
  • Red cabbage simmered with beer and brown sugar adds a touch of sweetness.
  • Paprika is often in Northern and Eastern European recipes and should make an appearance in your cutlet breading.
  • Sour cream adds an authentic tanginess that will contrast nicely with the fried crunch of your cutlet.

Japanese
For a quick lunch in Kyoto, a tonkatsu-style cutlet will do just fine.

  • Panko bread crumbs are the only way to go for the ultimate crispy cutlet.
  • Fresh ginger grated into your breading mix or dipping sauce adds a little heat. 
  • Cucumber Radish Salad with rice vinegar stirred into the dressing offers a light reprieve.
  • Scallions add a subtle onion-y element with a burst of fresh green flavor.
  • Steamed rice provides a toothsome base.

Midwestern United States
For a cozy fall supper, these ingredients highlight the best the Midwest has to offer.

  • Baked apples with cider, brown sugar, and butter pack the punch of fall in one bite.
  • Smashed squash operates like mashed potatoes in this preparation, but with a vibrant color and loads of nutrients. 
  • Roasted potatoes nod to the classic combination of meat and potatoes.
  • Pan gravy is a perfect way to use up the pork drippings and add a super savory element to your meal.

Italian
For an Italian meal worthy of the highest praise, draw inspiration from the saltimbocca (traditionally made with veal).

  • Prosciutto wrapped around each cutlet explains why this dish translates as "jumps in your mouth." 
  • Sage tucked in between the pork and layer of prosciutto offers a fragrant surprise.
  • Marsala wine added to the pan after pan-frying the pork, deglazes with a sweet earthiness intrinsic to Italian cuisine.
  • Polenta with a touch of Parmesan rounds out the meal.

These are just a few of the ways I like to travel by way of pork cutlet. What other regionally inspired meals would you create based on this staple? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Do you love a good food theme as much as I do? Tell me what food items or themes you'd like to see featured in this column and your idea could be the subject of an upcoming post!

Molly is a chef and food educator living and cooking in Northern Wisconsin. When she's not dreaming up themed menus, she's dishing out other delicious content as the editorial assistant for the Whole Foods Market Cooking program.

Molly Head Shot

3 Comments Add a Comment
  • Missing_avatar

    Stonehousephoto says: Really, REALLY great writing Molly!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Thank you, Stonehousephoto!

    over 2 years ago
  • Missing_avatar

    Chef VanGilderschnitzel says: Oh my goodness, I want to eat everything here. I love that the copy is short, and the links go to recipes. Great post!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Thanks so much! I am glad the post made you hungry -- luckily, while writing I get to "test" a lot of recipes! Please let me know what you end up cooking.

    over 2 years ago

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