The word cutlet is a bit of a culinary mystery – everyone has their own interpretation of what it means. Throughout most of Europe, a cutlet is a thinly-sliced cut of meat (usually pork or veal) that is beaten, covered in breadcrumbs, and fried (think schnitzel). This is the same in the US, but they are mostly made with chicken breasts. The Japanese like to use pork (tonkatsu). Australia uses either chicken or lamb. Great Britain is a little different in that cutlets are usually not breaded.
And then there’s Russia. Somehow, as they trotted down the path of history, the Russians decided that котлет was a pretty good word for what we in the US would call a hamburger steak. Russian cutlets are a very common household dish, probably due to how easy they are to prepare. What’s funny is that they often eat cutlets between two slices of bread as a snack – which sounds a lot like a hamburger to me, although they are still called cutlets.
So at the end of the day, you could have three people walking down the street,
a) eating a Chick-Fil-A sandwich
b) eating a schnitzel sandwich (they exist!)
c) eating what basically looks like a hamburger
…and they’d all tell you they are eating cutlets.
So, after working on my Russian cutlets for a while, I decided to make a dish that is unique in that it would be fit to serve at a restaurant (which is ironic, because cutlets are rarely served in restaurants in Russia).
for the cutlets -
2 lbs ground beef
1/2 med onion, blended
3 cloves garlic, blended
1/2 tsp each salt, white pepper, ground mustard
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp butter or ghee
for the sauce -
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 8oz can of tomato sauce or tomato purée
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 heaping tbsp sour cream
Blend your onion and garlic together into a paste, then get your other ingredients ready.
In a saucepan, melt the butter/ghee on medium heat, then add the onion/garlic paste. Simmer on medium heat for about two minutes, to sweat the liquid out of the onions and to lessen the oniony taste.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine the other ingredients for the cutlets and gently mix together with your hands. Be careful not to over-mix the meat.
Form the ground beef into six oval-shaped patties and place them on a baking sheet. I like to give them a little bit of a lip at the end of the cutlets, so that the sauce has a little reservoir to sit in. Place the cutlets in the middle rack of the oven and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, then broil them for another two minutes.
Meanwhile, let’s get your sauce ready. Combine the tomato sauce, chicken stock, and black pepper, and simmer on low for 20 minutes while the cutlets are cooking.
When the cutlets are done, move them to a plate, and add a couple spoonfuls of the gunk/fat/liquid that’s left on your baking sheet to your tomato sauce. It might look a little gross as you’re adding it, but this is a very Russian way of preparing the dish – why waste all of that flavor?
At this point stir in the fresh parsley, and raise the heat to medium.
Once the sauce is simmering (it should only take a minute), remove the pan from heat, let it sit for about 30 seconds, then stir in the sour cream.
Spoon some sauce over the cutlets and enjoy. This dish is often served with pan-fried or mashed potatoes in Mother Russia.