The Radetzky’s cutlets

The Radetzky’s cutlets.


he Milanese cutlet and the Wiener Schnitzel have a very similar recipe: for many years it was not clear which one was invented first and if, in some way, one was a copy of the other. Something has changed recently: the discovery of a letter sent by the Field Marshal Radetzky to the Adjutant of the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, “could” be useful to solve the issue.

Two cutlets compared.


t’s very difficult to know with certainty the true origins of the so-called “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:

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 ©:2


dispute between the cities of Milan and Vienna about the true origin of the cutlet, has gone on for quite a long time. To solve the issue, many mention a letter sent by the 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 typical meat dish from Milan, whose description corresponds to the Milanese cutlet. If the existence of this document could be confirmed, it would clearly represent a decisive proof to establish where the 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, movements very similar to these, 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 ©:5

… that just doesn’t exist!

Fact is that, apparently, the letter sent by Radetzky just doesn’t exist, as pointed out also by the famous historian and linguist H.D. Pohl.
It’s important to notice that:
a) There is no trace of this writing in any archive.
b) Historians declare that no Count Attems was ever adjutant of the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.
So, it’s probably for the best not to put too much faith in this document, at least for the moment.
It should be added that most probably, during the period when Radetzky ruled in Northern Italy, the Wiener Schintzel was already well known in Vienna.
In order to find the true origin of the cutlet, it’s much better to look elsewhere …

Vienna, Imperial Palace (Hofburg)

1134, the “lombos cum panitio”: a decisive proof?

Milan, Saint Ambrose Basilica ©:9


uring the years, many different hypotheses have attributed the paternity of the cutlet sometimes to Milan, some others to Vienna. Only recently something has been found that could solve this issue once and for all.
It’s a document dating 1134, stored in the archive of the Basilica of St.Ambrose in Milan, in which there is the description of a recipe: the “lombos cum panitio”. This recipe explains how to make breaded and fried veal loin … in other words, the Milanese cutlet!
Could this be the decisive proof? Yes, it’s possible.

Milan or Vienna?


hanks to the recipe found in the document dating 1134, it’s possible to say that most probably the first cutlets were from Milan.
This does not exclude that another valid evidence could be found in the future, showing the parallel development of different type of cutlet in the city of Vienna. It’s a realistic possibility, since the Austrian culinary tradition includes many examples of breaded and fried foods.

Milan Cathedral ©:10

Field Marshal Radetzky: an Austrian hero.

Field Marshal Radetzky ©:4


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 so-called “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 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 in fact 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, the Emperor Franz Joseph declared two weeks of mourning.

Liepzig: Battle of the Nations ©:3

Cutlets in the world.

Tonkatsu ©:7 Tonkatsu ©:7

The Japanese cutlet.


apan has its own kind of cutlet: its name is “tonkatsu”, also known as 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 so-called “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 ©:8 Country fried steak ©:8

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.


he huge cutlet served in many Italian restaurants is known as “orecchia di elefante” (elephant ear), for its typical shape. It’s very different from the classic “Milanese”, since it’s made with turkey, sometimes veal. The slices of meat are pressed until they are large and thin. It’s usually seasoned with lemon instead of butter. For these reasons, the “orecchia” is quite similar to a Wiener Schnitzel.

Butter or lemon? Butter or lemon?

Butter or lemon for the Milanese?


utter is traditionally used both to make the Milanese cutlet and to season it. For this reason it’s 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 ©:5

How to.


Here follows a couple of videos showing how to make the cutlets of this article.
The Milanese Cutlet:

The Wiener Schnitzel (in German language):

The “Milanese” in four images

Four images illustrating the steps to make the classic Milanese Cutlet:

“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, made using meat and bone, and the cutlet without bone.
“Costoletta”: this name can be used only for the classic Milanese cutlet.

The citizens of Milan generally just use the dialectal name “cotelètta” (pronounced “cutulèta”).

The healthy properties of “golden” food.


old and food have an ancient relation. In the past a lot of people, especially rich people, really believed that food of the same color as the precious metal, could be particularly healthy. For example, cutlet was such a kind of food.

Cutlets and music

It would be so interesting to listen to the “cotolekt-polka”, composed by Johan Strauss Jr. to celebrate one of his favorite dishes: the cutlet. Unfortunately the original score is lost forever, destroyed in an accidental fire after the death of its author. A great loss, considering there is probably no way to recover it.
Here follows some music to accompany this article:

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.




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.

All the images used in this page, with the exception of those marked with the “webfoodculture” logo, are released in public domain:
©:1 (*) – Johann Strauss Jr. in Paris, 1867, unknown author (Wikipedia Link)
©:2 (*) – J.J.W. Graf Radetzky, Georg Decker 1850, Schönbrunn Palace. (Wikipedia Link)
©:3 (*) – Leipzig, Battle of the Nations, Krafft 1839, Deutsche Museum (Wikipedia Link)
©:4 (*) – Johann Josef Wenzel Graf Radetzky, Lodovico Kaiser 1856. (Wikipedia Link)
©:5 (*) – The Conquest of Milan, lithography, Werner Lith 1850. (Wikipedia Link)
©:6 (*) – Voltaire, Largillière 1724, Versailles Palace. (Wikipedia Link)
©:7 (**) – Katsu sando, 2005, author unknown (Wikipedia Link)
©:8 (*) – American flag (Wikipedia Link)
©:9 (*) – Milan, the Cathedral, 2007 G.Dall’Orto (Wikipedia Link)
©:10 (**) – Milan, Saint Ambrogio’s Basilica, 1870 G. Brogi (Wikipedia Link)
©:11 (**) – Gold bars, 2011, Agnico-Eagle (Wikipedia Link)

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