Saturday, February 28, 2009


Science Guy wrote: Blog request: Veal scallopini. Ate it in a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Italian Alps. Have tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to recreate what I remembered it tasting like.

Well, the short answer is, I can't help you re-create what you ate. Scallopini isn't a dish, it's a method of preparing meat. The word scaloppina comes probably from middle French and means shell. Simply put, scaloppina (plural, scaloppine) is a thin slice of meat or poultry that has been pounded to make it even thinner and more tender. Some dishes that can be made with scaloppine include, Milanese, Francese, Parmigiano, marsala, al tartufo, pizzaiola, limone, saltimbocca, romana, giuda, etc., etc., etc.

Since your memory comes from your time in the Italian Alps, I'd be willing to bet that what you had was something very similar to cotoletta di vitello alla Milano, or veal Milanese. Cut from the leg, and pounded paper thin, cutlets of veal are dredged in flour, dipped in egg, coated with breadcrumbs (fresh and unseasoned), and then fried in butter until golden, which shouldn't take more than three minutes per side. Served simply with lemon and parsley, this is a traditional Milanese dish that is often served with risotto Milanese (arborio rice that's cooked by first toasting the rice, and then adding small quantities of hot stock; risotto needs to be stirred constantly to prevent burning).

Another dish from the north of Italy is saltimbocca (jump in the mouth) which was probably first made in Parma. To make this dish, veal cutlets are covered with a slice of prosciutto and a sage leaf. They're rolled and either tied (traditionally) or sealed with a toothpick. They're then dredged in flour and fried in butter. When they're cooked, the pan is deglazed with white wine, which is allowed to reduce. The veal is added back to the pan to warm and to be coated in the sauce.

Of course, you might also have had what's called veal Francese, a dish that was invented in New York and has since found its way to Italy. Henri Soulé and Pierre Franey, were chefs who were here for the 1939 World's Fair. At the outbreak of WWII, they stayed in the U.S. as war refugees, and in 1941, they opened Le Pavillon, the restaurant that defined French food in the States for the next 40 years. Franey invented the dish. Veal cutlets are again pounded thin, and are simply dipped in egg, dredged in flour and then fried. A sauce of white wine, butter and capers is made and poured over the veal (lemon is sometimes added, but is not part of the original recipe). This is supposed to be a lighter and more refined dish than the "rustic" Milanese.

It's unlikely that you had veal marsala, which originated in Sicily. Here, the veal is not dredged in flour or breadcrumbs. Rather, it's simply sauteed in butter and oil until golden brown. They're removed from the pan, and garlic and shallot are added and allowed to wilt (1 minute) Mushrooms (porcini, if possible, if not, crimini and shiitake can be substituted, but avoid portobello, as they tend to turn the dish a dark brown color) are added. It's important to not stir the mushrooms until they've given up their liquid and that's evaporated. Moving them too soon will cause them to steam rather than saute. When the mushrooms have started to brown, sweet marsala wine is added and allowd to reduce by abou half. The veal and any accumulated juices are returned to the pan, and are just warmed through. Stir in a tablespoon of butter, to finish the sauce, and serve.

Be careful when buying veal, however. Factory produced and processed veal is loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones, and is extremely low in iron (which accounts for it's pale color). Veal calves are frequently sick, and suffer awful, brief lives that are, if anything, worse than those lived by beef cattle. If you can find it, purchase grass-fed, free-range veal. You'll find that the flavor is more defined than factory veal.

Thinly sliced and pounded, beef, pork, turkey, and chicken can all be used in place of veal. Try using skinless and boneless chicken thighs for a heartier flavor. Turkey and chicken breast are milder, and take on the flavor of whatever they're cooked with. Pork loin makes particularly good scaloppine, as its structure is more similar to that found in veal. Whatever you use, though, be sure to buy the best produce you can. Cheap meat is just that, and it tastes it. The better your ingredients, the better your food will taste.

And with that, I'm off to the greenmarket. Good luck, Science Guy.


  1. I'm pretty sure I had the Milanese. I distinctly recall the lemon and parsley.

    I'll try it in a few weeks after I go shopping and let you know how it turns out.

  2. Please do. I'm curious to know if this is doing any good or not.