Chosen as the official dish of the 9th International Day of Italian Cuisines, celebrated on 17 January 2016 in thousands of restaurants all around the world, the famous Costoletta alla Milanese or Milanese steak - breaded milk-fed veal little rib, fried in clarified butter - has been celebrated and prepared by chefs and restaurateurs in more than 75 countries. Not just any slice of breaded and fried meat can claim the title of costoletta alla milanese (“Steak Milanese or Milanese-style cutlet”). Costoletta actually means “little rib”, and the real deal must come from the rear section of the calf, cutting the loin between the ribs. The best ones are 3 cm thick, with a long bone, the ones furthest away from the animal's neck. According to the experts, only the first six ribs are suitable, as they provide the perfect balance of meat and fat.
As the name suggests, the steak Milanese recipe comes from Lombardy, the region around Milan, and indeed, its ancient origins are confirmed in a list of foods drawn up by an abbot in 1134, which includes “lompolos cum panito” or breaded loin. However, the Milanese origins of the dish were challenged in the nineteenth century, when it became the focus of a dispute with the Austrians. At the time, they ruled Lombardy and much of northern Italy, and they claimed with great conviction that this recipe was a variation of the Wiener Schnitzel. Austrian patriotism aside, the Weiner Schnitzel is very large and thin, and is often prepared from pork. In the Italy of the eighties, a different version gained popularity, much to the horror of all good purists: the costoletta a orecchio di elefante or “elephant-ear cutlet”, which is very thin, and often comes strewn with cherry tomatoes and arugula. Nonetheless, the authentic recipe allows for no variations: the costoletta must be thick. Gualtiero Marchesi, the father of Italian cuisine, created his own version, but he understood the rules. Realizing that it was the crunchy golden breadcrumbs that made this dish so delicious, he took a very thick cutlet and diced it, coating all six sides of the cubes with breadcrumbs instead of just the usual two. The result was heavenly.
So how do you make an authentic steak Milanese? Here are a few tips and tricks to bear in mind.
- Any kind of meat can be used to make a cutlet, but only the presence of the bone and the thickness of the cut will tell us we've got the right one.
- It is important not to salt the meat, and also to cut a little nick in the edge, to prevent it from curling during cooking. The slice should be coated first in white flour, then in lightly salted beaten eggs, and finally in coarsely grated breadcrumbs.
- The fat used to fry the cutlets is the other reason why proper preparation requires a little investment: the perfect costoletta is fried in plenty of clarified butter, in which it must be completely immersed.
- The essential rule of frying is very simple, as any gourmet will tell you: the more fat you put in your pan, the lighter the fry will be. That means using at least 300 g of clarified butter for two costolette, but they will only absorb a very small proportion of that. If you want to do a professional job, use a thermometer. The ideal temperature for frying is 160 °C.
- The meat must be a pinkish white on the inside, and golden and crunchy on the outside. When you cut the meat, no water should come out onto the plate. For this reason, you should wrap it in kitchen paper for at least a few hours before cooking.
- The breadcrumb coating can be enhanced with a spoonful of grated parmesan or some chopped herbs. It must not come away from the meat, and the finished product should not look shiny or greasy.
The same procedure can also be used with lamb cutlets and other types of meat or offal, with fantastic results.