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Veal pojarski, a super tasty cutlet made of veal steak partly chopped and partly minced. It was invented in Russia and the creation is subscribed either to 19th century prince Dmitri Pozharsky or his lowlier contemporary, an innkeeper Pozharsky from the Moscow locality.
What do you do if a piece of meat you aimed to turn into a lovely steak turns out not so good on closer inspection? Presumably the butcher pulled a fast one or the procurer took a cost cut. Maybe the picker was vegetarian not knowing or caring much about meat, or you sent your teenage son to town shopping. Calamities happen, and we can always phone a pizza in at home or cross the dish off the restaurant menu explaining it was so popular it ran out.
Not so easy if you’re a chef in residence entertaining the most important visitor in 19th century Russia: the spectre of Siberia may replace takeaway pizza there. What you can do is use the failure to your own advantage and invent a new dish, following (or preceding, my culinary chronology is wanting) in the footsteps of nachos, Waldorff and potato crisps. You create a wonderful meat dish which is partly steak, partly regurgitated (figuratively speaking) meat.
Of course the above is another of my fantasy tales on the origin of a dish. But doesn’t it sound very plausible? You think you’re about to cook a lovely lean steak and then discover the reality is fatty and can’t be called marbling. But bits of the steak are all right so you don’t want to let them go down the mincing machine and you end up with a win-win: new meat dish with interesting texture and a flavour to die for.
The only proper, authentic pojarski (sometimes spelt ‘pozharski’) is made with veal. Chicken pojarski is a fake, and so is pork. Even faker are the versions with all-minced meat – you get meatballs not pojarski that way. Wikipedia spouts rubbish about the unique feature of the cutlet being the butter added to ground meat; if nothing else this has finally convinced me not to trust it.
I know what the correct version is like because it used to be popular in some Polish restaurants in the Cold War era. Frugal and Russian in origin, it figures. You didn’t get many cordon bleus or schnitzels but steak pojarski – very much so. I guess in those days the minced part outweighed the lean bits but the dual texture was certainly observed.
It is a bit of an effort but then it lets you get away with less choice cut being proudly served as a showstopper, because it is so incredibly tasty it’s fit for the fanciest dinner party centrepiece. Add to that the fact that it’s a lesser known cutlet and you get the ingenuity for dinner too. What’s not to like? Well – it’s calorific, with all the butter and breadcrumbs. Ah well, nothing’s perfect.
veal pojarskiServings: 4Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
- 20g dried porcini mushrooms
- 300g (10 ounces) veal, T-bone steaks off the bone or similar cut
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed with a knife
- 1 large slice of white bread (about 40g), crust cut off
- 50ml (¼ cup) double cream
- 2 tbsp. butter, very soft plus more for frying
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp white pepper
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- 1 egg
- white breadcrumbs, for coating
- oil, for frying
1. Place the porcini in a small pan with enough water just to cover them; cook for 5 minutes until softened. Drain and roughly chop, set aside.
2. Cut the lean part of veal into small cubes and place in a large mixing bowl.
3. Roughly chop the remaining veal and place it in a food processor or blender with the smashed garlic; pulse until smooth. Add the bread together with the cream and blend to combine. Add the butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg, and blend.
4. Transfer the blended mix to the bowl with the cubed meat and add the chopped mushrooms. Mix it with a spoon until thoroughly combined and the chunks of meat are evenly distributed. Chill the mix for at least 15 minutes, otherwise it will be too sticky to handle.
5. Divide the firmed up mix in four, each about 100g (4 ounces). Shape them into oblong, lightly flattened cutlets and place on a plate lined with parchment. Return to the fridge for 15 minutes to let them set, if you have time.
6. Beat the egg in a shallow bowl; place the breadcrumbs in another bowl. Using two forks or a fork and a spoon, dip each cutlet in the egg to coat it, and then in breadcrumbs. Return the cutlets onto the parchment and chill again.
7. Heat 3 tbsp. of oil in a large frying pan. When it’s hot, add 1 tbsp. butter and fry the cutlets over moderate heat for 4 minutes on each side. Add another bit of butter when you turn them over.
8. Remove the pojarskis from the pan onto a warm dish lined with paper towels to drain the fat, then serve with green salad, or completely innovatively in a burger bun with a gherkin.