Scaloppine di vitello al vino bianco, veal scaloppine with white wine sauce – why do Italians always have to get it so right? So annoying. So gorgeous!
How to spell 'scaloppine'?
Scaloppine must be one of the most misspelt words in cookery – on par with focaccia, mozzarella, pappardelle and conchiglioni. Italian language is playfully perverse with double letters: they turn up in just the opposite spots to what you’d expect.
And as it happens, the dish is also not quite what you’d expect: nothing to do with scallops, all to do with thin slices; not breaded, just dredged in flour; classically veal, but turkey and chicken just about appropriate too.
Scaloppine is not escalope
Since the English language counterpart, escalope, refers to a cut of veal, I’d always thought scaloppini were simply slices of veal, in Italian. Ah well, if I had a pound for every time I was wrong about cooking I’d not need to write a single word here again.
How to handle veal?
I’ve also been ambivalent about veal’s texture, about flattening meat chops and so in case of scaloppine clearly both. Whacking the living daylights out of meat – literally so, as you could see daylight through thus flattened cutlet - makes me think of shabby schnitzels whose thickness is constituted mostly by breadcrumbs.
I don’t subscribe to the view that pounding makes a tough cut tenderer: it doesn’t, unless you pulp the thing into a meatball.
Is veal tenderer than beef?
Veal has caused me trouble too: not so much ethically as I always buy humanely reared meat, but the texture of it always puzzles me. It should be more delicate than beef but it isn’t. It should be softer but not the case.
And – as I never miss the chance to quote when talking about veal – Kalbfleisch ist kein Fleisch*, my grandmother used to sneer.
Italians know better
As it often happens, the Italians do it right. Scaloppine al limone, followed by vitello tonnato and Milanese is one of those really easy dishes that can be served at poshest dinner parties.
It doesn’t even matter much if the veal isn’t sliced perfectly against the grain (amazing how many butchers cock it up) – the secret is in flattening the cutlets to half their original thickness, not any more.
That actually tenderises the veal, and if you can afford to salt the flattened meat and chill it for several hours, you’ll get the loveliest texture.
Fry in butter? Oh yes!
Secondly, don’t be afraid of butter. Frying in butter sounds like an insane idea considering its low smoke point but magically, veal escalopes fry beautifully without burning, smoking or even colouring much – which isn’t essential here as they will get dunked in sauce.
Veal in white wine sauce
And the sauce is the nicest thing, with capers and parsley being the classic, simple and great combination. I find ordinary white wine is the best, rather than fancy Italian Vin Santo or another. Just remember: never put in cooking a wine that you wouldn’t be happy to drink!
*veal is no meat