In contrast to the hummus wars, which everyone acknowledges as a legit enterprise, the battle for Israel's best schnitzel is a furtive struggle. You have to give your opinion in an undertone: offhand, playing it cool. Hummus is serious business; schnitzel is kids' stuff. Not that that makes the nation's grownups love it any less.
There are high-strung opinions about whether you should dredge the schnitzel in flour or marinate it in the egg mixture, add things to the egg---things on the order of soy sauce or silan; I've heard affirmative murmurings about mustard or mayonnaise. My one grandma insisted that the secret was dipping the schnitzel in bread crumbs first, egg second. This turns schnitzel orthodoxy on its head; this could be a serious problem. Except that it was delicious, and her daughter-in-law fell for it, hard.
Which brings me to the point: good schnitzel is more technique than recipe. Many roads lead to good schnitzel: pat it, soak it, drizzle it with honey, dredge it in flour first or don't, choose Pereg or Osem or panko bread crumbs; do whatever you like, just make sure your schnitzel is cut or pounded thin and the the oil in your pan is half-deep and hot enough. Then, watch that chicken like an army sergeant so that you turn it when it's just the right degree of crisp and golden.
Three secrets for great schnitzel
First and foremost: the chicken breasts must be thin and completely defrosted, so they will cook fully by the time the bread crumbs get golden-crisp. If you can find them, buy thin-cut chicken breast fillets. If not, you can pound a standard-issue chicken breast thin. Two small but important details: One, use the smooth side of a meat tenderizer to get your chicken breast down to about ½" (1cm) thick, reserving the tenderizing side for the final thwacks. Two, you want to hover the tenderizer just over the chicken breast, pounding from a height of 1" / 2.5cm or so. This prevents the meat from tearing.
Second: Bread all the chicken breasts before frying. Set yourself up with a breading station: one dish for the egg coat; one dish for the bread crumbs and one large plate or platter to hold the breaded fillets. A pyrex or rimmed baking pan works well for the egg and the bread crumbs. I like to use a pyrex loaf pan for the egg and a small rectangular pyrex pan for the bread crumbs, as you can see in my set-up photo. You're going to complete the whole breading operation before putting the first schnitzel in the frying pan. Though it seems more efficient to bread as you go, frying one or two fillets while you bread the rest, breading them all at once prevents you from burning a schnitzel while you're occupied with breading, or rushing to get a schnitzel into the pan. (Yep, some people will tell you the exact opposite; but this way works better, in my experience.)
Three: Use enough oil to coat the bottom of the frying pan and reach about halfway up around your schnitzel. Schnitzel is supposed to be shallow fried, not deep fried, but you want a generous amount of oil to achieve a restaurant-style golden crust. You'll have a good amount of oil left over in the pan after frying--if you want to be totally Israeli, set it out to cool on your balcony or back step. I prefer frying schnitzels in olive oil, though it's not usually used as a high-heat oil; I've not had an issue with it burning and I think it tastes the best. I use a large, straight-sided skillet, frying two schnitzels at a time in two batches. Bring the oil up to 350F / 175C on an instant read thermometer, so that the schnitzel sizzles when it goes in. You don't want the schnitzel to hiss angrily when you slide it into the pan (meaning the oil is too hot) or, conversely, sit meekly soaking in a still puddle of oil (meaning the oil isn't hot enough).
Okay, one more secret: Schnitzel must be served with boiled potatoes mashed Israeli style, by hand so they are just a bit chunky, and an overgenerous scoop of Israeli salad. If you want to give your schnitzel the bistro treatment, add a squeeze of lemon over top.
Israeli Chicken Schnitzel (meat)
- 4 chicken breast filets, cut or pounded thin - about 1.5 lbs / 700g
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- ½-1 cup high-heat oil, for pan frying
Prep your ingredients & work space:
- First, trim you chicken breast fillets and pound them if they are not thin cut, using first the smooth side of a meat tenderizer and then the ridged side. The fillets should be between ¼" and ½" thick (1 and 1.5cm) .
- Next, set up your breading station by setting out two medium-sized baking pans or bowls side by side. Place the eggs in one of the pans and beat, adding a dash of water (or other flavorings; see notes). In the other pan, place the bread crumbs (and any add-ins; see notes). Place a large plate or platter at the end to hold your breaded fillets.
Bread the chicken breast fillets:
- Take the first chicken breast and dredge it in the egg on both sides, holding it over the pan to allow the excess egg to drip off.
- Next, dip the chicken breast in the bread crumbs, then flip to the other side, coating it well on both sides. Place on the prepared platter and repeat until all breasts are breaded.
Fry the schnitzel:
- Heat the oil over a medium-low flame in a large, flat-bottomed sauté pan and allow it to heat to shimmering, 3-5 minutes. It should read about 350°F / 175°C on an instant-read thermometer.
- Place the first breaded chicken breast in the hot oil and fry until golden on the bottom, 4-5 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes on the second side.
- Drain on a cooling rack set over a baking tray and repeat with the remaining schnitzel. You can cook as many at a time as will fit in your pan comfortably—I usually cook two at a time.
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp honey or silan (date syrup)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- ½ tsp garlic powder