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If Milan were a dish, it would be ‘a cotoletta’. Sorry, ‘a costoletta’, with an ’s’. Knowing how to make it is an art, becoming more and more rare, and unforgiving to imitations.
The meat is strictly veal, still on the bone and about an inch thick, coated in egg with a breading fried in clarified butter: this is the true ‘costoletta alla milanese’. The others are just schnitzel, which is a plain and simple breaded meat. Since the 1800s the Lombards (of Northern Italy) and Austrians have argued over the origin of the recipe, but what is certain is that in Milan, they keep the bone and wouldn’t even consider using pork or turkey in place of the veal, and certainly would not fry it in olive oil. If in doubt, ask yourself about the fat needed to fry it, and butter will win.
There are those who prepare “the elephant ear”, beaten so much that it becomes thin and huge. Then those who – since the eighties – have continued to garnish with cherry tomatoes and arugula, accompanied by a slice of lemon. But the original costoletta is eaten as is, or at most with a little splash of red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt.
Crispy, double-breaded, still pink inside and has an unmistakable scent of butter – it’s everything you’d expect from the original recipe for the perfect chop. It’s simple, and that’s why it’s increasingly difficult to find, even in its home city of Milan. It should be cooked in a pan, not a fryer, and breaded just before cooking – all reasons which make it ill-suited to the rhythms of modern restaurants that favor advance preparation and quick service. But there are restaurants where the true costoletta exist – you just have to know where they are.
For the best wine-pairing, go with a regional bubbly Franciacorta or a lively young red, which has just the right effervescence. Sorry, but the costoletta doesn’t pair well with neither lemon on top nor bold reserved red wines on the side.
At Trattoria del Nuovo Macello, where the general markets once were, the wait is 25 minutes long but guests kill the time by enjoying a plate of typical Milanese starters.
On Corso Garibaldi, one of the popular shopping and nightlife streets, Osteria del Brunello was awarded “Best Cotoletta of the Year” in 2015: 230g of meat made just right, served with classic sides of potatoes and spinach.
For the creative and starred versions, the chef (and Italian media sensation), Carlo Cracco, two Michelin stars, serves the dish unstructured, dubbed the “Mistaken Milano”. The breading is served separately from the meat, a young Fassona breed, typical of the Piedmont region. This way, guests can appreciate the two souls of the famous dish.