The traditional recipe of the famous Italian dish cotoletta alla Milanese and the French influence on the words of Italian cuisine.

In the Milanese cuisine there are three emblematic traditional dishes: the saffron risotto or risotto alla milanese, the panettone and the cotoletta alla milanese. 

Being of Argentinean nationality, in my country we have the ‘milanesas’ that look similar to the cotoletta because of Milanese immigration in my country. So I was very happy when I knew I was going to try a traditional Italian ‘milanesa’.

The cotoletta traditionally consists of a slice of bone-in beef tenderloin, breaded and fried in butter, seasoned back with liquid butter when ready. Modern versions tend to avoid this last step and replace the butter with lemon slices that are squeezed by the diner once the dish is served.

In this article, I’m going to tell you some stories about… 


Italian cuisine, its French influence and the birth of the word cotoletta

According to the book ‘New Lombard Cooking Code’, the Italian language of cooking was born from a cross between French and Italian dialects. And reading the recipe books, one could say that this crossing was a bit contradictory. 

In Lombard kitchens, the two languages, the Milanese dialect and French, continued to play with the language settings during the first half of the 20th century. Also, several chefs did not speak Italian but a dialect, be it Lombard, Bergamo or Tuscan. 

After two years of elementary school, professional cooks learned Italian and French (orally) in the kitchens. Cooking terminology did not have reliable references in cookbooks, so all terms were in French. 

The case of cotolette alla milanese

An example of this crossing of languages is the case of the cotoletta alla milanese. When this recipe was described in the 1903 book Scienza in cucina by Pellegrino Artusi, great care was taken to call them costelette alla milanese or ‘milanese ribs’, specifying that by using the ribs, they have the bone. And without it they are just pieces of lean, spoiled meat. In the ear of the cooks, costelette betrayed the silly imitation of the French côtelette, and so, for the Milanese cooks, it derived in cotolette.

The history of the traditional cotoletta alla milanese

  • Cotoletta, (cutuleta in Milanese dialect, derived from the French côtelette)

According to some historians, the first indication of cotoletta in Milanese cuisine dates back to the dish of “lombolos cum panitio” contained in the menu of the Canons of San Ambrogio the patron saint of Milan during the solemn festivals of the 13th century, a description that has been communicated by Pietro Verri.

But not all scholars of the history of Italian cuisine accept this recipe. Others believe that the first mention is in the book Gastronomia Moderna by Giuseppe Sorbiatti, in 1855, in which he speaks of Milanese fried veal ribs:

“Subtly prepare six ribs with courtesy, soak them in the beaten egg, then dip them in bread, fry them over a low heat until they are golden, turn them over, salt them, and after two minutes serve them on the plate seasoned with liquid butter and lemon slices”.

Cotoletta alla milanese or wiener schnitzel, what are the differences?

The cotoletta milanese is also described by Radetzky who wrote that in Milan they ate an excellent cotoletta, which is passed through eggs, breaded and fried in butter, unlike the Viennese, with fine flour and pork, not beef. Here we see the first difference between cotoletta and wiener schnitzel, which also dispute which of the two gave rise to the other.

Perhaps there were already versions of the Schnitzel in Austria before the cotoletta, but floured and not breaded, as suggested above. 

The Austrian schnitzel is usually made with pork and several cuts of the boned meat are used, a very thin, wide meat and it is beaten in the preparation. Finally it is floured before cooking and although today lard is used for frying, in the past pork fat was used. 

On the contrary, the cotoletta is made with beef, only the sirloin is used, the famous cut is called “elephant’s ear” because by having the bone and also hitting it, it becomes wide, like an elephant’s ear. And it’s almost a centimeter high, just like the bone. In the cotoletta we use only breadcrumbs and not flour. To fry the cotoletta we use only butter. .

Recipe of cotoletta alla milanese

Preparation for 6 portions

Ingredients:
  • Veal ribs with bone 6 units, 1 cm high,
  • Bread crumbs to taste,
  • Eggs 2 units,
  • Butter 150 g
  • Salt
Preparation
  1. Cut the edge of the ribs so that they do not curve during cooking.
  2. Tap them lightly and pass them first through the beaten egg and then through the breadcrumbs, tapping them gently with your hands so that the breadcrumbs adhere well.
  3. Melt the butter in a large, heavy pan and brown both sides over low heat.
  4. Salt is added at the time of serving.
  5. When cut, it should be slightly moist inside: it should be crisp on the outside and soft inside.
Variations

Some historical recipes recommend grating a pinch of nutmeg into the breadcrumbs; others, like Artusi’s, prescribe mixing the breadcrumbs with Parmesan cheese (Artusi also adds parsley and truffle perfume).

Tradition appreciates the use of double breadcrumbs, to make them crunchy on the outside, while keeping their softness and light internal moisture.

Accompanying

As the main course it goes well with saffron risotto (risotto allo zafferano. As a second course, it goes well with fresh chicory, chips, asparagus, spinach or green beans in butter.

It requires a wine with good body and great smoothness, like the Italian Curtefranca DOC Rosso with a slight herbaceous taste. 

Italian cotoletta alla milanese