The French verb escalope means "to scallop," which is exactly how it translates in culinary technique. Though the term can be used to describe any thinly sliced meat that is pounded flat, veal escalope is perhaps the most abundantly prepared and embraced. This meat can be used in a range of recipes, from sandwiching ham and cheese for the famous veal cordon bleu to being simply breaded and pan-fried with a simple squeeze of lemon to finish it off.
According to The Food of France escalope was first mentioned in French cookbooks in the 1600s. It originated in the northern, almost completely rural area of the country. At first, chefs exclusively prepared veal escalope, with other white meats like chicken and pork not considered for this treatment until later. In 2011, a chef trying to make a dish sound more gourmet might use the term for even a thin fillet of seafood or steak.
To make veal escalope, cooks first slice veal across the muscle into large, but thin, cuts. It can then be pounded thinner in a range of ways. Some chefs will merely pound the veal with a meat hammer or the butt of a big knife. Others cover the cut with plastic wrap and roll it thinner with a rolling pin.
Several reasons are given for why veal escalope makes sense to many chefs. A thin cut of meat requires the least amount of time to cook. Further, a good hammering will produce a more tender cut of meat with less offending cartilage. These cuts also better absorb any seasonings that are used in the recipe.
Once the veal has been rendered thin, it can be prepared in several iconic ways. Many chefs will bread the fillets by dipping them in separate bowls of breadcrumbs, flour and eggs, and then frying them quickly in a hot, oiled skillet. In the same pan, many cooks will then fry up some vegetables like capers or onions, along with some herbs, to top the escalopes for the final presentation. This is the most basic way to make escalopes.
In Germany, the fillets are fried in butter for a common entree known as wiener schnitzel. For a Milanese version, the breading is often composed of Parmesan cheese to give it a saltier and tangier coating. Frequently, a sauce is made to give the escalopes more moisture. Common ingredients for this sauce include lemon, butter and sage.
One of the more complex uses of escalope, either veal or the more popular chicken, is as the outer layers of cordon bleu. This requires stuffing thin layers of ham and cheese into the middle of two veal escalopes. These can then be breaded and pan-fried, then later topped with a creamy mornay sauce of butter, Parmesan, garlic, milk, flour, salt and pepper.