My husband and I joke that our marriage is held together by a pork cutlet.
For years, Wildair, a natural wine bar on New York’s Lower East Side, was our personal Cheers, where everybody knew our names. We felt perfectly at home there, and it wasn’t just an opportunity to eat inventive and impeccably executed food, but also a chance to see chef-owners Fabián von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone, who had become our friends. We’d joke that the milanese was inscribed in our ketubah vows, and that if one of us ever ate at Wildair without the other and came home without the cutlet in hand, it would automatically trigger divorce proceedings.
Sometimes, I’d wind up at Wildair for a work dinner, and toward the end of the meal, I’d order a milanese to go. The cutlet was sacred, the “holy milanese.” The staff had caught on to this being a thing and would send me home with the dish elaborately wrapped in foil swans or other hilariously sculpted animals. When we moved to the Washington, we became homesick for Wildair and its milanese.
So, what makes this dish so special? It is, after all, just a cutlet pounded thin, breaded and fried. It’s downright pedestrian and not exactly uncommon. But Wildair’s milanese was far more flavorful than any other I’d ever had.
When the recipe did not make it into von Hauske and Stone’s cookbook, I did what any food writer on a mission would do: I emailed von Hauske and begged for the recipe. Over the phone one afternoon, he walked me through it.
The first, and probably most important, thing that makes the Wildair milanese radically different is the type of meat used. While a typical fried pork cutlet is a loin, von Hauske favors shoulder (also known as butt), which he gets sliced thinly and then pounds to about a quarter-inch thick. Von Hauske told me he and Stone prefer the shoulder because it is fattier, has more connective tissue and is incredibly flavorful. The pounded cutlet undergoes an egg-flour-bread crumb coating process before getting flash-fried in hot oil. Though traditional milanese is a shallow pan-fry, at the restaurant, von Hauske uses a deep fryer with 400-degree oil.
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Naturally, I wanted to be sure that making this milanese at home wasn’t going to be a safety hazard. Many cooks are apprehensive about deep frying; the vat of hot oil seems dangerous, the leftover oil wasteful. But – perhaps counterintuitively – I find deep-frying simpler and faster than shallow-frying. With the latter, oil splatters all over my stove top (and counters and microwave, which hangs above), and I always dread scrubbing afterward. But deep-frying, with its sheer volume of oil and a deep pot, produces no such mess. Letting the oil cool, then straining and reusing it a few times, is economical and less wasteful. (It’s not even that much oil, after all – about three cups or so.) And it helps that the hotter oil temperature and faster cooking time ensure the coating stays adhered to the meat, instead of puffing out and separating. It not only makes for a prettier presentation, but it’s also nice to get a bite of deliciously seasoned, crispy breading with each bite of tender, flavorful pork – and not be forced to eat them separately.
Minutes after you lower the meat into the hot oil, it’s done – gorgeously golden and glistening. The cutlet is served alongside gribiche, a French cold egg sauce spiked with capers, cornichons, shallot and herbs, and lemony mustard greens, which cut through the richness of meat with their punchy, herbaceous notes and bright acidity.
When I made milanese at home, I heated my oil to 400 degrees and super carefully lowered my breaded meat into the pan. To my delight, the flash deep-frying went without a hitch, and minutes later we were eating flavorful pork while feeling transported. We missed our friends, as well as a foil swan, but we were giddy that we could re-create the experience in our own kitchen without much effort. The plating sure looked fancy, but it was simple, delicious, stepped-up home cooking – the very best kind.