The Radetzky’s cutlets

The Radetzky’s cutlets.


eal Milanese (also known as ‘Milanese cutlet’) and Wiener Schnitzel have similar recipes: for many years, it was not clear which one was invented first and if one could be a copy of the other. A letter supposedly sent by Field Marshal Radetzky, Austrian national hero, to the Adjutant of the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, seemed to have solved the mystery. Let’s deepen our knowledge about the two specialties. Let’s visit the most traditional restaurants preparing them.

The Radetzky’s cutlets (img-12)

Two cutlets compared.


t’s very difficult to know with certainty the true origins of the ‘cutlet’, a delicacy well known worldwide. A dispute has arisen to establish which one of the two most famous recipes, the Milanese cutlet and the Wiener Schnitzel, was invented first. A sort of investigation is necessary to know the truth: an investigation that should start by comparing their respective ingredients.

The Milanese cutlet. The Milanese cutlet.

The milanese cutlet.
Veal chops.
Bread crumbs.

The Wiener Schnitzel. The Wiener Schnitzel.

The Wiener Schnitzel.
Veal, pork or turkey.
Bread crumbs.

The 'milanese' cutlet.

Below, the main differences between the two specialities:

The meat:

Milanese: Only veal chops taken from the loin can be used (including bone).
Schnitzel: Veal meat taken from the rump or the flank (without bone). Pork meat is used for the ‘Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein’, chicken meat for the ‘Huhnerschnitzel’.

The appearance:

Milanese: The slices must be 2/4 centimetres high.
Schnitzel: The slices must be wide and just a few millimeters high. To reach this result, the meat is pressed.

The preparation:

Milanese: The meat is wet with egg mixture and coated with breadcrumbs.
Schnitzel: The meat is dredged in flour, wet with egg mixture and coated with breadcrumbs.

The cooking:

Milanese: The original Milanese must be fried in butter.
Schnitzel: The Schnitzel is fried in lard.

The seasoning:

Milanese: Melted butter.
Schnitzel: Lemon.

Cutlet and fries.

A letter sent by Radetzky …

Field Marshal Radetzky (img-02)


he dispute between the cities of Milan and Vienna about the true origin of cutlets has gone on for quite a long time. To solve the issue, many mention a letter sent by Field Marshal Josef Radetzky to Count Attems, Adjutant of the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. It seems that in this message Radetzky refers to a delicious meat dish typical from Milan, a specialty whose description corresponds to the Milanese cutlet. If the existence of this document could be confirmed, it would represent a very good proof to understand where the original recipe was born.


It’s very important to remember that the dispute started during the period when Radetzky was governor of Milan: it could, therefore, be considered as part of a wider conflict between the Austrian occupation forces and the raising independence movements. Years later, this kind of movements brought to the unification of Italy.
Legend wants that Count Attems once said:

“Alas, it seems that a cutlet can be more dangerous for the empire than the book written by Silvio Pellico … it’s enough to strengthen the rebels, making our victory in Custoza completely useless!”

Conquest of Milan (img-05)

… that just doesn’t exist!

Fact is that the letter sent by Radetzky most probably doesn’t even exist, since:
a) There is no trace of it in any archive.
b) Historians are pretty sure that no Count Attems was ever adjutant of the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.
It should be added that, during the period when Radetzky ruled in Northern Italy, Wiener Schintzel was presumably already well known and much appreciated in Vienna.

So, it’s better not to put too much faith, at least for the moment, in the ‘elusive’ letter, and to look elsewhere …

Vienna, Imperial Palace (Hofburg)

1134, the ‘lombos cum panitio’.

Milan, Saint Ambrose Basilica (img-06)


uring the years, many different hypotheses have assigned the ‘paternity’ of cutlet sometimes to Milan, some others to Vienna. Only recently something has been found that could really solve this issue once and for all.
It’s a document dating 1134, stored in the archives of the Basilica of St.Ambrose in Milan. In this document, there is a description of a recipe, the ‘lombos cum panitio’, consisting of breaded and fried veal loin … in other words, the Milanese cutlet!
Could this be a decisive proof to attribute the origin of the specialty? Yes, it’s possible.

Milan or Vienna?


hanks to the recipe in the document dating 1134, it’s possible to say that, most probably, the very first cutlets were from Milan. This does not exclude that in the future other important pieces of evidence will be found. They could demonstrate, for example, the ‘parallel’ invention of a different type of cutlet in the city of Vienna. It’s something possible since the Austrian culinary tradition includes many breaded and fried preparations.

Milan Cathedral (img-09)

Field Marshal Radetzky: an Austrian hero.

Field Marshal Radetzky (img-04)


osef Radetzky was one of the most famous generals of the Austrian Empire. Member of a noble family, he joined the military when still very young. Brilliant officer, he distinguished himself many times fighting against the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1813 he took part in an important battle at Liepzig, the ‘Battle of the Nations’, in which the Emperor was bitterly defeated. After the capitulation of France, Radetzky had an important role in the Congress of Vienna, where the future balance of power of Europe was decided. Years later, thanks to his victories in Northern Italy, he was appointed the governor of Lombardy and Veneto Regions: even if there are no doubts about his talent as an officer, the same cannot be said about his ability to rule. His attitude was deeply reactionary: this irritated the local population, strengthening the independence movements.
In Austria, Radetzky was always considered a true national hero: when in 1858 he died, Emperor Franz Joseph declared two weeks of mourning.

Liepzig: Battle of the Nations (img-03)

Cutlets in the world.

Tonkatsu (img-07) Tonkatsu (img-07)

The Japanese cutlet.


apan has its type of cutlet: its name is ‘tonkatsu’, also known as ‘katsuretsu’. ‘Katsu’ has European origins, its recipe has been slightly modified in the Nineteenth Century according to local taste. This cutlet is made with pork meat, dredged in flour, wet with egg, coated with breadcrumbs (the ‘panko’) and fried. It is usually served in small pieces, easier to get with sticks, or inside a sandwich (the ‘katsu sando’).

Country fried steak (img-08) Country fried steak (img-08)

The American cutlet.


he cutlet recipe arrived in the United States thanks to the Austrian and German immigrants who settled in Texas during the Nineteenth Century. The ‘country fried steak’ is made with veal or pork, whereas turkey is used for the ‘chicken fried steak’. To prepare it, meat is dredged in flour, wet with egg, coated with breadcrumbs and fried. The American cutlet is usually served with different types of savory creams.

The elephant ear cutlet. The elephant ear cutlet.

The elephant ear cutlet.


huge type of cutlet is served in many Italian restaurants: its name is ‘orecchia di elefante’ (elephant ear), for its typical shape. It’s very different from the classic ‘Milanese’ since is usually made with turkey and is seasoned with lemon instead of butter. The slices of meat are pressed until they are large and thin. The ‘orecchia’ is, in a way, quite similar to the Wiener Schnitzel.

Butter or lemon? Butter or lemon?

Butter or lemon for the Milanese?


utter is traditionally used to make the Milanese cutlet and to season it. For this reason, this specialty is very tasty but also very fat and thus not exactly ‘dietetic’.
The use of lemon as an alternative seasoning has been introduced only recently: an ingredient not present in the classic recipe, but certainly more in line with the contemporary health trends.

The conquest of Milan (img-05)

Napoleone, l'esercito e il cibo (img-10)

How to.

How to make a cutlet.

Here follows a couple of videos showing how to make the cutlets described in this article.

The Milanese Cutlet:

The Wiener Schnitzel
(in German language):

The ‘Milanese’ in four images.

Here follow a few images illustrating the steps to make the classic Milanese Cutlet:

WebFoodCulture: only the most traditional food & wine.

Waltzes and cutlets.

Fascinating waltzes to accompany a delicious wiener schintzel:

Note: join Spotify and listen to the full song.

‘Cotoletta’ or ‘costoletta’?


wo names can be used in Italy for the Milanese cutlet:
‘Cotoletta’: this name can be used for both the classic Milanese cutlet, including meat and bone, and the one without bone.
‘Costoletta’: this name can be used only for the classic Milanese cutlet.

The citizens of Milan (‘i milanesi’) generally use just the dialectal name ‘cotelètta’ (pronounced ‘cutulèta’).

The healthy properties of ‘golden food’.


old and food have an ancient connection: in the past, a lot of people believed that a specialty of the same color as the precious metal, could really be particularly healthy. Cutlet is an example of this kind of food.

The ‘erdäpfelsalat’.


n the best Viennese restaurants the Wiener Schnitzel is usually served with the ‘erdäpfelsalat’: a traditional salad made with sliced potatoes boiled in beef broth, seasoned with a marinade of onion and vinegar and enriched with chives.

‘Completing’ the Milanese cutlet.


he most traditional Milanese cookbooks suggest that when the ‘costoletta’ is ready to be served, it should be ‘completed’ (‘finita’), wrapping the extremity of the bone in paper or silver foil. This way it can be grabbed without getting dirty.


The right beverage.


hat to drink with a Milanese cutlet? A good choice is a red sparkling wine, fresh, quite tasty, medium warm and quite tannic. For example a ‘Bonarda’ from Oltrepò Pavese (DOC).
The acidity, the effervescence and the saltiness balance the fat of the butter and the sweet tendency of the fried bread coating.
The alcohol and the tannicity balance the succulence of the meat and the greasiness of the frying.

The Wiener Shnitzel is often accompanied by a Weizenbier, the famous German wheat beer.

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The following images are public domain:

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img-01 (*) – Johann Strauss Jr. in Paris, 1867, unknown author (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-02 (*) – J.J.W. Graf Radetzky, Georg Decker 1850, Schönbrunn Palace. (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-03 (*) – Leipzig, Battle of the Nations, Krafft 1839, Deutsche Museum (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-04 (*) – Johann Josef Wenzel Graf Radetzky, Lodovico Kaiser, 1856. (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-05 (*) – The Conquest of Milan, lithography, Werner Lith, 1850. (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-06 (**) – Milan, Saint Ambrogio’s Basilica, image by G.Dall’Orto (Wikipedia Link)
img-07 (**) – Katsu sando, 2005, image by Frank “Fg2” Gualtieri (Wikipedia Link)
img-08 (*) – American flag (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-09 (*) – Milan, the Cathedral, 2007 by G.Dall’Orto (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-10 (*) – Portrait of Napoleon, 1807, Hippolyte Delaroche (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}

This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

img-11 (**) – Gold bars, 2011, image by Agnico-Eagle (Wikipedia Link)

This file is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

img-12 (**) – San Martino della Battaglia, by E. Bressanin, image owner W. Sauber (Wikipedia Link)

The header image is pubblic domain:

Image 01 (*) – The Conquest of Milan, lithography, Werner Lith 1850. (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}

(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.