Friday, July 24, 2009


[Scene: A small Palo Alto apartment complex, in the middle of the day, about three years ago. MB and B sit on the couch in a first floor apartment, laptops on laps, working away. B turns his head quizzically to the ceiling, clearly wondering what is causing the noise that has begun to emanate from above.]

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thwack!

Silence, lasting only ten seconds or so.

Thwack! Thump. Thump. Thwack! Thwack!

Silence. Blessed, blessed silence. It only lasts for a few short (though savored) seconds.

A similar pattern repeats itself. After an hour (an hour!), B decides that we really can't live with this unbearable noise anymore. It is impossible to concentrate on anything! He goes outside, walks upstairs, and knocks on the back door of the apartment of our upstairs neighbors.

What could they be doing? They're often a little loud, but that can easily be explained by the fact that there are four people spanning three generations crammed into a two bedroom apartment. We've joked about whether they're moving furniture up there when they're being particularly loud. And we know they are a little odd, because they seem to think that the communal recycling bin for our five apartment complex is actually a "re-use" bin. B and I have discovered, and subsequently transferred, among other items, a comforter splitting at its seams and a microwave oven to the appropriate (garbage) bin. Loud and odd are one thing, but this ceaseless thumping noise is quite another.

The door to the neighbors' kitchen opens. B starts to say, "I'm really sorry, but is there any way you could..."

His voice trails off as he sees the thirteen year-old boy standing at the kitchen counter with a meat tenderizer in one hand, and a huge pile of pounded meat at his side.

"No problem," the thirteen year-old boy says in his slightly Eastern European-accented voice. "I was almost finished." He resumes thumping and thwacking. His grandmother sits at the kitchen table, looking on; doubtless she'll be responsible for cooking the meat later in the evening. Incredulous, B returns downstairs, his mouth agape.

[End scene.]

We all have our stories about noisy upstairs neighbors, right? In medical school, I used to live below someone who would clip-clop around in high heels every single Friday night before going out. I had a roommate in college who would clunk around in clogs on a daily basis. She told me she preferred to wear shoes in our common room so her feet wouldn't get dirty (surprisingly, she never wanted to help sweep the floor); it was bad enough for me and JB, but I can't imagine what it was like to live below. Loud shoes are one important cause of downstairs neighbor dissatisfaction; thus far, though, I've only heard one instance of meat-pounding causing a neighborly complaint.

B and I live on the top floor now. We try our best to be respectful of our downstairs neighbor (and not just because she knows about this blog), but the wood plank floors can be squeaky, and I can't imagine what the tearing around of the cats at their 10pm witching-hour sounds like from below. At least the cats spend a lot of time asleep, though, or in blinky half-asleep mode like Jasper here.

Concerned about making noise, and not having a meat tenderizer, I only recently made my first foray (ever!) into meat pounding. I used a rolling pin, which was perfectly adequate. Now that I'm an expert meat pounder, I think back to our old upstairs neighbors and I can't imagine why their prep was so loud and why it took so long.

It seems like chicken schnitzel is everywhere these days, and the chicken needs a little tenderizing for maximal breading-and-frying success. I saw this recipe a little while ago, which is the basis of today's recipe, and then my cousin-in-law wrote about this one recently.

Prepared this way, the chicken is perfectly crispy and delicious! It's sauteed in olive oil, so it can't be too terrible for you, right? The chicken needs salt (easy enough to sprinkle on top) and acid, which you can get by squeezing fresh lemon over the top and/or by using the caper sauce I invented the second time I made the schnitzel. With a quick salad or sauteed vegetable on the side, you'll soon have a light, summery meal. Enjoy!

Chicken Schnitzel with Caper Sauce

Serves: 3-4
Time: 30 min active and total

2 chicken breasts, or 1 package chicken tenders (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs)
salt, to taste
3/4 c. flour
1 t. oregano
2 eggs, lightly beaten with 2 T. water
2 c. panko bread crumbs
8-10 T. olive oil, for frying
2 T. Italian parsley, finely chopped
lemon wedges, for serving
2 t. capers (optional)
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)

If using whole chicken breasts, slice into 1/4-inch pieces. Arrange chicken slices or tenders, if using, on a piece of plastic wrap. Cover with another piece of plastic wrap. Using a meat tenderizer or rolling pin, pound meat until approximately 1/8-inch thick. Remove top piece of plastic and season chicken generously with salt.

Set up a dipping station near the stove, with flour and oregano mixed in one shallow bowl or plate, eggs in another, and panko in another. Holding a chicken piece by the edge, dredge completely in flour mixture, shaking off excess, then in egg, then in panko. Repeat with remaining pieces of chicken.

In a large frying pan, heat 3-4 T. of olive oil, or enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Arrange the breaded chicken in one layer, without overcrowding. Cook for approximately 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip and cook for another 2 minutes, or until lightly browned. Place cooked chicken on a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Place another 3-4 T. olive oil in the frying pan, and repeat with remaining chicken pieces.

If making the caper sauce, turn the heat off the frying pan and add the capers and garlic to the pan. Swirl, adding another 1-2 T. of olive oil as needed to make a sauce.

Serve the schnitzel sprinkled with Italian parsley, with lemon wedges and caper sauce on the side.

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