My good friend, JP, who is also a member of the Bounded by Buns Patreon community, suggested that I write about a sandwich that she remembers fondly from a few years back. This was a chicken schnitzel sandwich from Olga’s Delicatessen that closed for good when the eponymous Olga died in 2016.
What is this sandwich?
Here’s what JP had to say when I asked her to suggest a sandwich for me to tackle.
Olga’s chicken schnitzel sandwiches were the stuff of local legend when I worked on Irving Park Road. You walked past the shelves filled with European groceries gathering dust to get to the sandwich counter in the back where Olga—who was exactly the small grandmother-type you imagined she was—made chicken schnitzel and other cold cut sandwiches to order. Her chicken schnitzel sandwich would be piled high with three cutlets, and simply dressed with mayo, tomato and iceberg lettuce on white bread. I don’t think it would work as well as it did if you changed anything —just the most basic of ingredients; no fancy tomatoes, no sourdough bread, no romaine instead of iceberg lettuce. And it was all about $6.Jenny Pfafflin
JP also sent a link from Chicago Magazine’s 2012 list of 50 unique sandwiches in Chicago. Olga’s schnitzel appeared as #21 and there’s a short write-up and photo that gave me a bit of a start to address this sandwich.
With a bit more research, I learned that the reason Olga’s Delicatessen got a string of local food press in 2012 was because someone suggested the schnitzel sandwich in late July of that year to Mike Sula who writes for the Chicago Reader. The photos from Sula’s article about Olga’s schnitzel no longer appear on the Chicago Reader’s website but luckily the Internet Wayback Machine had a saved copy (see screenshot).
Note: none of the Internet Wayback Machine links on this page work on phones or small screens because of how websites in 2012 would force redirect mobile users to a m.website.com or mobile.website.com style url. I’ve included the important photos in this blog post where I could.
Sula’s article and photo stirred up some other local food/restaurant reporters to check out Olga’s and try the sandwich. One of those who also wrote about the schnitzel sandwich was Nick Kindelsperger who at the time was working for Serious Eats Chicago. This article also no longer appears with photos but the very trustworthy Wayback Machine came to the schnitzel rescue again.
I reached out to Nick a few days ago and got his permission to share his photo (above) and he also reiterated what JP said about how stepping into Olga’s was like going back in time. He also said that he remembers the experience being wonderful.
If you study the photos and read these articles (plus JP’s description) you will find that Olga’s schnitzel sandwich wasn’t super consistent in its appearance and toppings. Some photos show 3 schnitzel cutlets, and some even show as many as 5 cutlets. Occasionally one sandwich will have cheese (muenster) and then others have no toppings. At least one has what appears to be nothing but thinly sliced white onion. Because of these inconsistencies, I am guessing that either Olga just made the sandwich with whatever she had on hand, or she had a list of toppings you could choose from.
For my version of a schnitzel sandwich that is attempting to be like what Olga served, I chose to go with JP’s toppings that she remembers which were iceberg lettuce, a simple slice of tomato, and mayonnaise.
The bread options
Mike Sula mentions in his Chicago Reader article that the bread used in some of Olga’s sandwiches is rye bread, and many of the photos seem to show a cutlet sandwich on rye bread as well. But some of the other photos look like they could be a schnitzel sandwich on white bread. I wasn’t exactly sure which bread to use for this sandwich, so I invited JP over to do some testing.
JP felt that she remembered a pretty simple white bread but after looking at the photos I found she did agree that some sandwiches Olga served looked like they were on rye slices because seeds were visible. So, the conclusion is that Olga was using a very basic rye if she was using a rye at all, or possibly she changed the bread options around occasionally.
Because of this choice of bread situation, I did what any self-respecting sandwich blogger would do, and I made two types of bread: white bread and rye bread loaves for testing purposes. They both worked well but the group consensus (including my wife) was that the white bread felt like a better selection because the flavors didn’t distract from the rest of the sandwich. But in the end, I wouldn’t turn either bread down if that was what Olga was serving.
During the process of making a bunch of these sandwiches I noticed that the more cutlets the sandwich had, the more stress was forced onto each bread slice which caused a little bit of a breakdown. At first, I figured maybe I should try to concoct a denser bread recipe and I tried that with one loaf, but then I realized that no matter how dense the texture of the bread was, it simply couldn’t withstand 3 or 4 warm chicken cutlets and the pressure required to take a full bite of the sandwich.
This is one of the first recipes that I shared on the site. I made a couple of changes to at least one loaf during the making of these schnitzel sandwiches because I wanted the loaf to be a little less soft than the original recipe I created. But it turns out that this wasn’t necessary. The sandwich just requires a bit more care when taking huge bites and dealing with a tall pile of chicken cutlets.
I have made rye bread before and shared my recipe that I’ve tested quite a few times as a marble rye for Reuben sandwiches, but this version doesn’t require coloring to create the swirly marble appearance. This is a denser bread and the portion of rye flour in the dough seems to make it more difficult for a quick rise and proof in the loaf.
Here’s my rye bread loaf recipe that I used in several of these schnitzel sandwiches. I also used it for some tasty patty melts as well.
What is schnitzel? Well, Wikipedia says schnitzel is a thin slice of meat. But they go on to say that most commonly the thin slice of meat is breaded and then fried. Schnitzel is known as a German-originated entree where the breaded and fried cutlet of meat is typically served with potato or vegetable side dishes.
The word schnitzel in German is derived from the word sniz, or schnitt which means “cut” or “slice.” This means that the word schnitzel refers to the thinly cut or sliced meat, which is most often chicken, veal, or pork. Not only is typical schnitzel thinly cut, but it’s also usually pounded out to be super thin before being breaded and fried.
If we keep scrolling through Wikipedia, they have a full “Worldwide” schnitzel section for every country or culture that has a derivative of schnitzel. And that list is super long and fun to read through.
To create thin schnitzels or cutlets of chicken, first, we should know how to butterfly a chicken breast. Then we need to pound out each thin slice of chicken breast into a thinner piece under a piece of plastic wrap or zip-top bag. For the below images, I didn’t use a butterfly technique, I used a “chicken feathering” technique I saw on YouTube recently, but the same pounding under plastic applies to both.
I had some extra chicken and bread so I felt it would be a good idea to have a slightly easier cooking option for this type of sandwich. If you want to see more about a more authentic fried version, keep scrolling.
A baked “schnitzel” sandwich
We’ve learned that by the German definition, this is a schnitzel because it’s a thin cutlet of flatly pounded meat, but for this version of a schnitzel-like sandwich, I stopped just short of frying. Instead, I used the oven for the cooking portion. The resulting crunch isn’t quite the same as the schnitzel you might get fried up at Olga’s Deli, but the cleanup in your kitchen is so much less intensive that on some days this baked version is worth the trade-off.
Here’s my quick recipe for making an oven-baked schnitzel sandwich. You won’t get the same level of browning as in a fryer, but due to the Panko breadcrumbs, there’s still some crunch to be had.
This is an alternate option for making a fried chicken cutlet sandwich in the oven. Not quite as crispy as the fried version but way less cleanup is required. This recipe can make one large sandwich or two smaller sandwiches. Double the slices of bread for a second sandwich.Get Recipe
Fried chicken schnitzel version
I made a lot of thin pieces of fried chicken while preparing this sandwich. One night I cooked 12 different cutlets which were basically 2 large chicken breasts butterflied and then pounded super thin, breaded, and fried.
If you do decide to make more than one sandwich from this recipe, you should preheat the oven to a low temperature of 200 F (95 C). Place a sheet pan with a cooling rack in the oven and when each cutlet comes out of the oil, move it to the cooling rack in the oven to stay warm. This also serves to help dry out the oil on the outside of the chicken which results in a crispier schnitzel.
A tribute to Olga’s chicken schnitzel recipe
I never met Olga, but I attempted to channel her essence this week. For five or six days in a row, I ate at least one chicken schnitzel sandwich while I was testing all my recipes. As I have said a few times we even had a big schnitzel testing night where two different breads were pitted against each other.
This was a great week for sandwiches because any week where you’re eating a bunch of fried chicken cutlets is a great week. Each of these sandwiches was super comforting in the same way that a BLT sandwich on good white bread is comforting.
Test fried version
This was my first batch of rye bread and my first fried schnitzel for this sandwich blog post. The bread itself was a bit too soft and the schnitzel was too thick. I made some adjustments based on this for the next batches. I also learned from this first test run that I shouldn’t be frying one wide schnitzel and cutting it in half to stack it in the sandwich, I should be cutting the thin cutlet when it is raw to be close to the shape of the bread and then I would get 3 or 4 smaller cutlets out of each breast of chicken.
How many cutlets?
There are photos on the internet of Olga’s schnitzel sandwich going 5 layers deep which is wild. I made one sandwich that had 4 cutlets and it required a super wide-open jaw to even get a bite of all the layers. I also made 2 cutlet stacks in a sandwich and a few 3 cutlet stacks. After this sandwich research, I personally feel that 2 is probably enough for most applications but I certainly will never say that Olga was wrong in her construction of this big, beloved sandwich.
A comforting and crispy chicken sandwich that is similar to what would have been served at the now-closed Olga's Delicatessen in Chicago. This recipe can make one large sandwich or two smaller sandwiches. Double the slices of bread for a second sandwich.
Ingredients:Chicken schnitzel cutlets
- 1 chicken breast, butterflied
- 1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, divided
- 2 whole large eggs
- 3⁄4 cup plain breadcrumbs
- peanut or vegetable oil for frying (between 1 to 1.5 inches deep in your pan)
- 2 white bread slices
- 2 to 4 chicken cutlets (from above)
- iceberg lettuce
- 1 to 2 tomato slices
Chicken schnitzel: first, you need to butterfly your chicken breast until it's in two pieces. Butterflying cuts the chicken breast parallel with your cutting board so that you will have a flat, thinner piece of chicken. Here's a short butterflying tutorial if you've never butterflied a chicken breast before. After you've butterflied the chicken, go ahead and cut the large chicken piece in half so that you have two thin cutlets.
Cover the cutlets with plastic wrap or even better, a large zip-top bag that you have laid on top of the chicken. Using a meat mallet or a heavy pot, pound the chicken through the plastic to attempt to flatten each piece of chicken until it is less than 1/4-inch thick. This might take some effort and it will expand the width of your chicken piece considerably. After the chicken has all been pounded, cut each cutlet into pieces that are around the size and shape of your bread. You should be able to get 3 to 4 bread-sized, quarter-inch thick cutlets out of one chicken breast.
Set up your chicken dredging station. You will need three bowls or large plates for this.
The first bowl will contain all-purpose flour. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to the flour. The second bowl will contain 2 whole eggs whisked well. The third bowl will have breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. whisk to combine.
Add 1 to 2 inches of peanut or vegetable oil to a large pan or pot over medium-high heat and allow it to warm up until it's around 350 F (175 C).
Once the oil is up to temperature, carefully place each of your cutlets into the oil and fry them for 2 minutes, and then flip and fry for an additional 2 minutes. The cutlets should be very thin so they will cook quickly.
When the cutlets are fully cooked, remove them from the oil to a paper-towel-lined sheet pan or onto a cooling rack over a paper-towel-lined sheet pan.
Allow the cutlets to rest and cool for 5 minutes while you gather the ingredients to assemble your sandwich.
Sandwich assembly: grab two slices of bread and apply mayonnaise to one side of each piece (if using).
Top the mayonnaise with two to four of your chicken cutlets. If you're making two sandwiches, use half of your cutlets on each sandwich.
Top the cutlets with iceberg lettuce, tomato slices, and the second slice of bread. Serve and enjoy.
Check back next week
Next week we’re making a dip into a melt, and I’ll just let you know that it’s one of the tastiest sandwiches I’ve made in a couple of months. Spoiler: next week will be a tasty one.