Whenever I’m in Milan, I can’t get enough of the classic regional dish, la cotoletta Milanese. It’s a warm breaded veal cutlet, topped with pungent arugula and tomato salad. The contrasts are dazzling: The fresh, lively salad is a perfect foil for the warm, crisp meat. Cool stands out against hot. Red against green. Stylish as the city of its origin, this dish is a perfect example of elegant simplicity. It’s also one of those rare restaurant dishes that you can easily make at home.
The Milanese eat veal the way we eat chicken; in fact, in Milan the word cotoletta implies veal. And as much as I like veal in this dish, I like chicken even more, so I use boneless chicken breast when I make this recipe at home.
Italian cooks dredge the cutlets in homemade dry breadcrumbs before frying them, and you can, too. (For instructions on how to make your own, see the photos below.) You can also buy excellent breadcrumbs at bakeries or specialty food stores. If you opt for crumbs from the supermarket, be sure to choose the unseasoned variety.
Sauté the chicken in butter and olive oil. Butter is the principal cooking fat in the Lombardy region, where Milan is located, and while clarified butter (which can withstand high heat because the milk solids have been removed) is ideal for sautéing or frying, you don’t need it for this dish. Just use regular unsalted butter, plus a bit of olive oil. The oil raises the butter’s smoking point and keeps it from burning.
Mound that salad high. Along with its distinctive flavor, arugula adds visual drama to this dish. The leaves are fairly flat—this is particularly true of baby arugula—so it’s easy to layer them into a towering salad. As the vinaigrette sinks down through the leaves into the savory breading, it melds the peppery flavor of the greens with the buttery richness of the sauteed chicken.
For extra crunch, make your own dry breadcrumbs
Italian cooks generally make their own breadcrumbs from day-old bread. Homemade breadcrumbs aren’t a must for this recipe, but if you have day-old bread and would like to make them, here’s how: