Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
Whenever I’m in the mood for a restaurant-quality meal, but barely in the mood to cook, I find myself coming back to certain kinds of dishes: simple, silky blended soups or stir-fried noodles with a pantry-staple sauce. The most frequent is the foolproof formula of a thinly breaded cutlet plus a bright and fresh accompaniment, like this chicken paired with a juicy tomato topping (and a juicy wine, too). The veal version here is essentially the traditional Italian veal Milanese, but without Parmigiano-Reggiano in the breading (and cooked in oil instead of butter), so make sure you’re not shy when it comes to salting.
While I often make cutlets for easy weeknight dinners at home, they’re also great for entertaining. They’ll impress your guests, they’ll please almost everyone and the simple cooking process limits the chance of a mistake. You can use a small offset spatula to peek under each cutlet as it’s frying to ensure it reaches the right level of golden brown. The pan-frying takes just a few minutes on each side, and the resulting crunch is the perfect complement to virtually any fresh, high-acid side. Choosing a raw salad as a side means you can taste it and adjust if needed before serving, to be sure the seasoning is on point.
For sides, I tend to use whatever I have on hand since the straightforward meat preparation is so versatile. I especially love this mix of peppery arugula, licoricey fennel, sweet-tart apple and white onion for bite. A mandoline ensures quick and consistent slices, but if you’re more comfortable hand-slicing, go for it. If you have any tender herbs around (parsley, tarragon, basil), you can throw in some of those too.
The super-simple salad dressing is entirely composed of pantry staples. You can use standard white wine vinegar if you don’t have white balsamic, but the latter contributes a nice sweetness that I sometimes otherwise add to vinaigrettes through maple syrup or honey. I also like the way balsamic pairs with the fennel. But again, the dressing is very open to adaptations; just remember to season well with salt and pepper.
The wine pairing should add some salinity as well, while meshing with the vibrant salad. In this preparation, veal (technically a red meat) acts more like a white meat such as chicken breast, so I opted for a white wine: the 2020 vintage of the Friedrich Becker Pinot Blanc Pfalz Becker Family, which can be found at several retailers for $18 to $20. This German wine is easy to enjoy and incredibly food-friendly, so it’s likely to match most any adaptation you might make once this reliable recipe is in your weeknight rotation.
Crispy Veal with Fennel-Apple-Arugula Salad
Pair with a white wine that features flavors of citrus and other fresh fruit, along with salty notes, but still offers some roundness, such as the 2020 vintage of Friedrich Becker Pinot Blanc Pfalz Becker Family 2018 (90 points, $25).
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Approximate food costs: $35
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
- 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- 1/2 tablespoon grainy mustard
- Salt (plus, optionally, flaky salt such as Maldon)
- Lemon wedge, for squeezing
- 4 veal cutlets, pounded thin
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
- 2 cups arugula, sliced to the thinnest setting on a mandoline
- 1/2 green apple, sliced to the thinnest setting on a mandoline
- 1 small fennel bulb, quartered and then sliced to the thinnest setting on a mandoline
- 1/4 white onion, sliced to the thinnest setting on a mandoline
1. Start preparing the salad: In a small bowl, whisk 3 tablespoons of oil with the vinegar and mustard. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Set aside.
2. Season both sides of the veal cutlets with salt and pepper, then set up a dredging station: Add flour to a shallow bowl or rimmed plate, an egg whisked with a splash of water to another and breadcrumbs to a third. Season the breadcrumbs generously with salt and pepper and mix in.
3. Add oil to a large skillet so it covers the bottom (likely 2 to 4 tablespoons, depending on size) and heat over medium for about 3 minutes until the oil is shimmering.
4. Working in two batches, coat each veal cutlet in the flour, then the egg wash and then the breadcrumbs, lightly shaking off the excess in between. Immediately add them to the hot oil.
5. Fry the cutlets until the underside is deeply golden and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes, then flip and fry until the other side is deeply golden too, another 3 to 4 minutes. You can use an offset spatula to peek underneath and check on the browning. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels or to a wire rack set over a baking pan to drain. Sprinkle immediately with salt, preferably flaky salt.
6. In a large bowl, add the arugula, apple, fennel and onion and toss with dressing, adjusting the amount to your personal preference. Add some salad and a cutlet to each plate. Serves 4.