Paillards are thin slices of meat which have been pounded to tenderize them before cooking. Because paillards are so thin, they cook very quickly, maintaining their tender texture and natural juices. Many cultures have some version of paillards in their culinary traditions, and you may also hear paillards referred to simply as “cutlets” although in fact the term “cutlet” can be used in several ways. It is also possible to use some vegetables to make paillards. Celery root, for example, can behave much like meat when sliced thin and tenderized.
Potentially, any sort of meat can be used to make paillards. Chicken, beef, pork, and veal are the most popular choices, although it is certainly possible to use turkey and duck, along with more exotic meats, ranging from buffalo to emu. The cut is taken from various regions of the body, depending on the animal involved; many butchers recommend a cut which is already tender to begin with.
Some bakers sell slices of meat which have already been cut, although not tenderized, for the purpose of making paillards. In other instances, people can purchase cuts like breasts and loins and thinly slice them at home before tenderizing them. For cooks who choose to do this, it is a good idea to chill the meat first, making it easier to handle, and a very sharp knife is needed to smoothly slice through the meat, creating a relatively even paillard.
Once the meat has been thinly sliced, it can be pounded with a meat tenderizer or wooden mallet. For reasons of sanitation, most cooks like to sandwich the meat between layers of parchment paper or clean kitchen towels for the pounding, reducing the risk of contamination and keeping the kitchen tidy. During the pounding process, the meat is made even thinner and more tender, although the meat should not be pounded so hard that holes appear.
After paillards have been prepared, they may be cooked as-is in a saute pan or on a grill, or they can be breaded for cooking. To make a very basic breading, the meat can be dredged in flour, followed by a dip in lightly beaten eggs, and then rolled in bread crumbs. Sauteed and breaded paillards go very well with a wedge of lemon, incidentally.