I love thinking about language. It is riddled with rules and structure, but it's changing all the time. Words get used so often, recklessly or in disparate circumstances, that they lose their original meanings. "Literally" comes to mind. "Woke" and "canceled" are on this list. "Bad apple" and "witch hunt," too.
"Semantic change" is what linguists call it when the meaning of a word changes over time. Whether you find this phenomenon frustrating or fascinating, it happens in the food world, too. Let's talk about the cutlet.
Until the 1900s, the only cutlets sold in markets in the United States or called for in recipes were veal, a thin sliver of meat cut from the side of the rib or leg that was roughly the shape of Pennsylvania, oblong but rectangular.
This makes sense because the word "cutlet" comes from the old French "costelette," a diminutive variation of "coste," which means rib or side, from the Latin "costa," which is also the root of the word, "coast." The French served the piece of meat as an appetizer, much like croquettes, battered and fried.
But at the turn of the 20th century, with the explosive growth of the chicken industry in the United States thanks to related government subsidies, the chicken cutlet - more oval-shaped than rectangular - entered the scene and has never left. They're almost always prepared as you would schnitzel, katsu or Milanesa, dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and pan-fried. (Though cutlets are smaller, which may be one reason kids seem to love them.)
The thing is, chicken cutlets are not an actual cut of meat in the way that a veal cutlet or chicken tender is; a chicken cutlet is usually a chicken breast that has been cut into two thinner pieces. It's a thing mimicking a thing mimicking another thing.
At least two dozen other cuisines put their own spin on the cutlet, using different cuts of meat or new mixes of ingredients, almost always battering and frying it into an oblong piece of food. Variations include Iranian kotlets (ground meat and potato patties), German kotellets (a cut of meat that includes some of the rib bone), Indian dishes such as aloo tikki, Polish kotlet and many others. The point is, I think there's room for one more: How about cauliflower "cutlets"?
Here, the convenience of cauliflower rice, found in freezer sections across the country, makes quick work of a batter of steamed cauliflower bits, eggs, rice or chickpea flour and spices.
Scooped into long ovals in hot oil, they turn as golden and crisp as any chicken cutlet, without the messy business of breading. It's a thing mimicking a thing mimicking a thing mimicking yet another thing! Am I playing too fast and loose with language? Maybe, but served with a simple green salad and lots of mustardy dressing - or stuffed into a sandwich - these cauli-cutlets make an easy meal any night of the week.
How to make it your own:
- You can use 10 ounces of fresh cauliflower, chopped, minced and steamed until tender, instead of a frozen package. You can also use broccoli or romanesco in place of the cauliflower, or a mix of vegetables, though this will change the flavor of the dish.
- If you don't eat onions, omit them.
- Rice flour makes these especially crisp, but chickpea flour gives them a nice density; all-purpose flour will work, but it won't taste as good.
- This recipe calls for turmeric and cumin, which add a golden tint and warm flavor to the fritters, but you can skip them or substitute a teaspoon of your go-to spice blend: Lemon pepper, berbere, sazon, Italian seasoning or Tajn would all be great in here.
- Feel free to make any salad you'd like with these; the arugula and cucumbers are just a suggestion.
- I love a tart, mustardy dressing with cutlets, but just a squeeze of lemon works, too, as would ranch, ketchup, Thousand Island or a squirt of your favorite hot sauce.
- - -
Cauliflower Cutlets With Arugula Salad and Mustard Dressing
3 to 4 servings; makes about 10 "cutlets"
Who doesn't love a cutlet? This all-vegetable version - really more of a pancake or fritter - leans on freezer and pantry staples, including frozen riced cauliflower and chickpea or rice flour. If you'd rather use fresh cauliflower, measure 10 ounces (around a third of a large head), chop it into chunks and pulse it in your food processor until you have finely chopped bits. Microwave these for 5 minutes, until they're partially steamed, before proceeding with the recipe. Chickpea flour, which also will add protein, produces a tender, meatier fritter; rice flour fries up extra crisp. These also make great sandwiches on pita or in a roll, with a smear of aioli, chutney or mustard, lettuce and slices of tomato.
Storage Notes: Leftovers may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
FOR THE CAULI-CUTLETS
1 (10-ounce) package frozen cauliflower rice
3 large eggs
1/2 small yellow onion (about 2 ounces), grated
3/4 cup (about 3 3/4 ounces) rice or (2 1/2 ounces) chickpea flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil, plus more as needed
FOR THE SALAD
5 ounces (about 5 cups) arugula or mixed greens
5 ounces (about 1 cup) cherry tomatoes, halved
3 Persian cucumbers (about 6 ounces), sliced into coins
2 tablespoons mustard, preferably whole-grain
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon honey, plus more to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)
Lemon wedges, for serving
Make the cauli-cutlets: Microwave the package of cauliflower rice for 3 minutes on HIGH, until partially steamed. Carefully open the top to release some of the steam and set aside to cool slightly.
Line a tray with a cooling rack, or a large plate with tea towels or paper towels, and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy. Whisk in the grated onion, rice or chickpea flour, salt, turmeric, cumin and black pepper. Stir in the cauliflower rice until well combined.
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over high, heat 1/3 cup of oil until it shimmers. Using a large spoon, scoop up some of the batter, form it into a roughly 2-by-5-inch oval patty and gently slide it into the hot oil.
Repeat, flattening each to an even thickness, until the skillet is full, with about an inch between the fritters. Fry until the bottom of each fritter is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. With a spatula, gently flip and fry until golden brown on the other side, another 2 to 3 minutes.
Using a spatula, carefully transfer the cauli-cutlets to the prepared rack or tray. Repeat the shaping and frying, adding more oil as needed, until all of the cauliflower mixture is cooked.
Make the salad: In a large bowl, toss together the arugula, cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, lemon juice or vinegar, and honey. While whisking, drizzle in the olive oil, forming a loose emulsion. Use a leaf of arugula to taste the dressing. Adjust the acidity and sweetness and top with chopped parsley, if desired, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve the fritters warm, with salad, dressing and lemon wedges on the side.
Nutrition (Based on 4 servings; using rice flour) Calories: 502; Total Fat: 37 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 140 mg; Sodium: 413 mg; Carbohydrates: 35 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 9 g; Protein: 10 g.
Recipe from staff writer G. Daniela Galarza.