Beef Milanesas: An Argentine Alternative to Beef

Sandwich de Milanesa a la Napolitana Sandwich de Milanesa a la Napolitana
“In Argentina, a vegetarian is someone who orders a salad with their steak…”
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Those with even a basic understanding of food history probably know that the hamburger as we know it today is an American adaptation of the “Hamburger-style steak” which originated in the now-German city of Hamburg, and was brought to this country by immigrants from Schleswig-Holstein. Demonstrating typical cunning and salemanship, all the Americans did was make this dish portable, and, having done so, they set out to make the world obese and diabetic by drowning these wildly popular sandwiches in hydrogenated fat and salt, and selling them for $1 each.

Milanesa Napolitana at Rustico Baires in Palermo, BA

A marginally less successful, but somewhat healthier, tactic was adopted by Italian immigrants in Argentina, who, when they found that chicken was viewed with only slightly less disdain than fish in their new country, modified their recipe for pollo alla Milanese to include the ubiquitous Argentine beef. Like shooting fish in a barrel, once launched these new breaded and fried beef cutlets quickly became a hugely popular alternative to a steak across Argentina – a country that, since it, statistically, eats more beef per head than anywhere else on Earth, was likely crying out for alternative ways to serve their national dish.

Milanesa a la Napolitana

Known as milanesas, they can be found in one form or another on menus and in grocery stores throughout Buenos Aires: most are beef, though chicken and veal (de ternera) are also typical, and they come in a variety of arrangements, the most common of which seems to be alla Napolitana.  This latter dish consists of a breaded cutlet topped with prosciutto (or cooked ham), melted cheese [cuartirola (sic) [Quartirola Lombarda] or Port Salut] and a splash of chunky, crimson tomato sauce, and is often served with fries (papas fritas). Not many people know this, but it is not, in fact, named for Neapolitan-style pizza, or the way the dish is served in Naples, rather it is so-called because it was first served in Jose Napoli’s, now-defunct, Buenos Aires Pizzeria Napoli establishment in the 1930s.

Sandwich de Milanesa a la Napolitana Sandwich de Milanesa a la Napolitana

Indeed, this dish, remarkably similar to the French poulet cordon bleu, can be found throughout much of South America, and, in Chile, an almost identical dish is served as Milanesa Kaiser, or simply Escalopa, reflecting, perhaps, more the original central European roots of the dish in the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel, than its later variant the Lombardian cotoletta alla Milanese. In fact, such is the popularity of this technique of breading pounded meat and then shallow frying it, that you can find similar dishes throughout much of the western hemisphere with the wonderfully decadent Southern dish of chicken fried steak being perhaps the best known in this country.

Milanesa a la Napolitana

And, resembling the frankly magnificent “chicken parm” sandwiches found in almost every pizza joint in the north-east US, the milanesa also sometimes appears in sandwiches in Argentina. As we had recently received some delicious samples from Napa, Ca., company GL Mezzetta, from their new (to the north-east US) Napa Valley Bistro line, including a jar of tomato sauce and one of peperoncini (pickled hot peppers), with the challenge of using them to create a contest-winning sandwich, we decided to use them to build ourselves a delicious, gut-busting torta de milanesa alla Napolitana.

An hour later, full and sporting messy red-sauce mustaches, we began to wonder how come milanesas do not seem to have had quite the same bloating effect on the Argentine population as the hamburger has in America…

Mezzetta products

Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Products
Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce

Altogether this is an excellent jarred sauce and beats the pants off its competition. It’s pleasantly chunky; the wine provides a nice rounded flavor and doesn’t overpower the tomatoes with too much acid; and the small pool of olive oil that had settled on the top of the sauce was a good sign, showing both that it included olive oil and that it wasn’t fully emulsified with stabilizers or other preservatives. Other bonuses for a jarred sauce include the clear listing of “fresh” ingredients on the label, rather than their dried or powdered counterparts commonly found in regular, generic bottled pasta sauce. Our only complaint, and this is a matter of personal taste, is that it was slightly too heavy on the oregano. If you’re a fan of oregano in your pasta sauces though, this is probably the finest jarred sauce you can find.

Make That Sandwich
If you’d like to enter your sandwich to the GL Mezzetta Make That Sandwich Contest, click here and read the guidelines and other small print, and submit your entry. The grand prize is $25,000!! Good luck, happy sandwich-making and buen provecho!

Sandwich de Milanesa a la Napolitana

Torta de Milanesa alla Napolitana (Milanesa Sandwich) (makes 4 sandwiches)
Ingredients

  • 2lbs shell, flank or sirloin steak, cut into 1/2inch (1cm) thick steaks
  • 1 jar Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Tomato Basil sauce or 1 pot of Amy’s marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 french loaf(baguette) or other good crusty bread that’s a day old, crumbed coarsely in food processor
  • 24oz (750ml) vegetable/canola oil
  • 1/4lb (200grams) Port Salut or Munster cheese (domestic mozzarella is okay in a pinch), in long slices
  • 2 tsp pickled peppers (Mezetta Napa Valley Bistro peperoncini)
  • 1/4lb prosciutto, thinly sliced
  • 2 fresh French baguette-style / Italian bread loaves
  • salt and black pepper

Recipe

  1. Gently heat sauce in a saucepan (or follow directions for Amy’s marinara, which is often best the next day)
  2. Season steaks with salt and pepper before dipping in flour, egg and breadcrumbs in a conventional 3-stage breading process
  3. Heat enough oil for shallow-frying to 350F/185-ish C in a wide saucepan
  4. Cook each of the breaded cutlets for a couple of minutes on each side, or until nicely golden brown all over, and then drain on paper towels.
  5. Heat broiler (UK, oven-grill) to high
  6. Place one or more slices of prosciutto on top of each cutlet and then top this with slices of cheese, so that cutlets aren’t quite completely covered.
  7. Place cutlets under broiler and when cheese bubbles start to scorch ever so slightly, remove and top with a tablespoon of your red sauce.
  8. Halve and slice baguettes horizontally so you have four sandwich-ready breads
  9. Open them up, and adding peperoncini and additional red sauce to taste, insert a milanesa (cutlet) into each
  10. Serve immediately with a cold beer and plenty of napkins.

32 thoughts on “Beef Milanesas: An Argentine Alternative to Beef

  1. Did you make a couple more? We’d like one. Why? Because they sound so bomb. We know about the milenesa but have never had one. Perhaps a research trip to Argentina is necessary!

  2. What a great history lesson … leading up to an even better looking sammich. It’s making me hungry enough that I’d better go and find breakfast, before the coffee I’ve been drinking eats a hole in my gut!

  3. Milanesa sandwich…bread with breading…not for carb counters, but oh-so-good. Your version looks especially tasty, especially the cutlets which look done to perfection. I love the addition of the peperoncini for a little acidic heat.

  4. I love that quote! Just showed it to the husband, who suffered while living in Brazil for many years as a vegetarian (and ended up having to eat a bit of fish now and again in order to survive). We were recently discussing going to Argentina, as it’s always been my dream, but what would he eat while I tucked into endless meat dishes?!

    1. Hmmm… it would be difficult but you wouldn’t believe how many veggie alternatives have “sprouted” up in Buenos Aires over the past 5 years. It’s supposedly much easier for a vegetarian to eat there than in years past. But, if you left the big city I think it would be much, much more difficult. I will say that BA had the BEST salads I’ve ever eaten in my life and if he could survive on that, along w/ sometimes the only veggie options at parilla’s – grilled veggies – then you’d be ok. that is if he doesn’t mind that the veggies are grilled on the same grill as the meat!

  5. Ivy, at Kopiaste, posted a different hamburger-type recipe from Greece. It’s interesting to see these alternatives. At Zingerman’s, our internationally known deli here in Ann Arbor, they have a “burger” on the menu, that is actually brisket with all the traditional burger fixings.

    This looks delicious and dangerous.

    1. Hola, Jen.

      This is not a burger-type thing b/c the beef is not ground. It’s sirloin steak that’s fried. but i think that zingermans will have to be on my list of places “to-go” if I ever make it back to ann arbor!! YUM… brisket burger?!?

  6. This reminds me of a Mexican version of milanesa called cemitas. Easily in my top 5 favorite sandwiches in Chicago (which is saying a lot).

    1. oh YEAH, jude. in fact a cemitas is on the list of sandwiches for us to prepare for the blog. SO good. The best thing about these regional dishes is that the dishes staple may be the same but the bread and/or toppings will set it apart and make it authentic to that area. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Love it! Like a marginally healthier chicken fried steak. After frying up a batch of chicharons I’ve been using the leftover oil and going on a deep fry binge.

    Oh, and you’re featuring a product from my hometown (although I’ve never heard of the brand).

  8. Yes, Mezzetta is a fine producer of scrumptious delights. My refrigerator door currently boasts Mezzetta jalapeno rings, cherry peppers, olives, and pepperoncini. Didn’t know they made a red sauce. I will be hunting that one down this week.

    As always, lovely post. Slurp.

  9. The quote at the beginning of your post made me smile. I’ll definitely not take my hubby to Argentina. When I took my husband to a fancy restaurant in Paris and realized he was a vegetarian, kinda shook his head, trying to say “why the hell did you bring him?” lol

  10. Did you know “Milanese” was riffed off the Vienner Schnitzel? The lurve the sandwich, big and HE-MAN satisfying, despite your use of a sauce from aisle #4!

  11. Peter – we love ya, man, but it’s in the post! “reflecting, perhaps, more the original central European roots of the dish in the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel, than its later variant the Lombardian cotoletta alla Milanese. ”

    he-man satisfying – ha!!! you know i have more of a SHE-man hunger!

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