Take a mallet to a rooster and celebrate Oktoberfest any time of year with this delightful Bavarian schnitzel (cutlet) recipe.
Contrary to popular belief, Oktoberfest actually begins in either mid- or late-September and runs only to early October. Oktoberfest, annually held in Munich, Bavaria’s capital in Germany, is a multiple-week beer festival that started in 1810 when Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen and invited all citizens to attend.
These days, participants drink upwards of 7 million liters of beer in Munich and enjoy the flavors of authentic German dishes to commemorate the original celebration and also highlight German Unity Day on October 3rd.
While the dish schnitzel (meat cutlets thinned by light pounding then fried) originated just outside Munich’s front door in Austria, it appears on many German restaurant menus and has always been a favorite of mine.
“Schnitzel” means “cutlet,” and “jager” means hunter. Thaw thaw out some pheasant breasts any time of year and use a mallet to thin them to an immensely tender texture. The difference between a simple schnitzel and jagerschnitzel lies with the gravy—in this case, “hunter-style gravy.”
“Hunter-style gravy” or “hunter’s sauce” typically refers to a recipe that includes sautéed mushrooms and is made from beef demi-glace. Some sources suggest the sauce got its name from the practice of hunters returning home from a successful hunt and foraging for mushrooms along their route. Other sources speculate instead of wine—a common ingredient in modern hunter-style gravies—hunters employed the blood from their kill in the recipe.
Regardless of the origin of hunter-style gravy, or where schnitzel was first served, both make for a hearty, great-tasting meal any time of year ... but esepcially when autumnal foliage matches the plumage of our favorite game bird.
Pair with your favorite German-style lager to complete the meal.
(Makes two servings)
2 skinless pheasant breasts, approximately 5 to 6 ounces each, flattened
32 ounces beef stock
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 large cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
8 ounces baby portabella mushrooms or wild chanterelles, sliced
4 tablespoons salted butter (mixed use)
4 tablespoons flour, browned in a butter roux
1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and black pepper
4 cups buttermilk (for soaking pheasant breast)
2 cups flour
3 eggs without yolk, lightly beaten
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
Light dusting of kosher salt and black pepper when frying
1 to 2 cups of vegetable or canola oil for frying
Freshly minced parsley
Make sure pheasant breasts are completely thawed. Place on cutting board smooth-side down and cover with plastic wrap. Using either a meat mallet or rubber mallet, lightly pound pheasant breast until meat is a quarter-inch thick. For best results, try side-swiping the edges and thicker parts of breast in an effort to both pound and spread outward. Your motion should mimic the shape of an allen wrench—short downward motion, then long outward motion, similar to combing a dogs hair. The idea is not to bust the muscle fibers but to still tenderize and flatten the meat. Once flatten, soak in buttermilk while gravy simmers.
To start gravy, add 1 tablespoon butter to deep sauté pan and heat on medium low. When butter is melted, add finely diced onion and minced garlic. Lightly salt and pepper. Deglaze with 2 tablespoon white wine vinegar once onions are soft and slightly brown. Thoroughly rinse mushrooms and add to pan, along with 1 tablespoon butter. When mushrooms are soft (but not mush), add beef stock and 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and black pepper. Let liquids simmer on medium-low heat and reduce to half.
While liquids reduce, in a small pot, melt 2 tablespoon of butter on medium-low heat. Once butter is melted, add 4 tablespoons flour and mix together. Stir often so not to brown roux. Once roux has texture and color of wet sand, and stock in sautee pan has reduced to approximately half original amount, add roux to liquids. BE CAREFUL and sure to stand back because the reaction will produce a lot of heat and perhaps cause liquids to erupt, which could potentially burn you if too close. Stir roux into gravy until gravy thickens. Salt to taste.
Heat a separate large skillet on medium and add half inch of vegetable or canola oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. On a counter top, fill one large bowl with flour, another with egg whites, and the last with breadcrumbs. One at a time, remove pheasant breasts from buttermilk and dredge through flour, shaking off excess, and then through egg whites, and, finally, through breadcrumbs, again shaking off excess. You may need to rinse fingers off during this process to avoid clumping. Plate pheasant breast in frying pan and dust topside with kosher salt and black pepper. Fry pheasant breast one at a time, flipping once underside is golden brown. Remove when other side is golden brown and place on napkin-covered plate to absorb grease.
To serve, drench schnitzel in gravy and garnish with freshly mince parsley. Enjoy!
Jack Hennessy is a freelance outdoors journalist based out of Minneapolis and the author of the blog “Braising the Wild.” Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @WildGameJack or on Facebook at Facebook.com/BraisingtheWild.