A Chop with a Dusting of Gold

On September 17th 1134 the abbott of St. Ambrose Basilica in Milan hosted a banquet. On the nine course menu a dish appeared that was to become the signature dish of Milan and an Italian specialty worldwide. Costoletta alla Milanese, also known as Cotoletta alla Milanese, was then referred to as lombolos cum panitio (bread crumbed rib chops).

In the traditional version this dish is made with a cut of meat that includes the rib bone, the costola or costoletta. A thick chop (3-4cm) was cut between the 1st and 6th rib of the loin of a dairy calf, breaded and fried until golden and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.The breading and golden brown frying, as a cooking technique, has a long gastro-history in Italy. Medieval physicians believed that gold was the best therapy against heart diseases. Dusting dishes with a coating of the precious metal was thought to be heart-healthy. Gold dusted chops found their way into the royal kitchens while the common folk settled for a breadcrumb coating and a frying technique that simulated the color of gold. Dipping the ribs in beaten eggs, then coating them with breadcrumbs and slow frying in butter over moderate heat (calor biondo - blond heat) achieved the desired golden color.

Cultural variations of the dish exist. Most notably Austria’s Wiener Schnitzel which is made with a different cut of meat (usually pork), thinly pounded and fried in pork fat not butter. In Argentina there is a dish called Milanesa, introduced to the country by Italian immigrates between1860 and 1920. Milanesa is made from thin slices of beef, poultry, veal or pork, dipped in beaten eggs that are seasoned with salt and in some cases garlic, parsley or oregano. Each slice is then topped with bread crumbs and sometimes flour and lightly fried in oil. There’s also a larger, thinner Italian version of Costoletta Milanese, called l’orecchio d’elefante (the elephant's ear) referring to its size and shape. In this version the chop is deboned and tenderized prior to frying. There is also a version typical of Italy's Aosta Valley , the Valdostana cutlet in which the veal chops are butterflied leaving them attached to the bone. The flattened chop is folded over a slice of Fontina cheese, dipped in beaten eggs and bread crumbs and fried in plenty of butter till golden. Sometimes white truffles or ham are layered inside with the cheese. Pure deliciousness.

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