“White Meats”

Question: What do “piccata,” “saltimbocca,” “Milanese,” “scallopini” and “tonnato” all have in common?

Answer: They are all prepared with “white meats.”

The traditional “white meat” for these dishes is veal–veal roast, veal chops or veal scallopini (thinly sliced pieces of meat). But must they be prepared only with veal? Not at all. They are equally delicious prepared with turkey breast, pork tenderloin or chicken breast. And don’t forget that in Sicily these “white meat” presentations can be prepared with swordfish , and in San Francisco you might find some of them prepared with Petrale sole, regardless of what name is used to describe them on the menu. Petrale sole and swordfish are equally “white meats” or “white proteins.” I prefer to use basa instead of sole, as this fish is not as delicate, and therefore easier to handle with less of a tendency to fall apart. This article is meant to explore a whole range of preparations using the “white meats and fish.”

Before setting off on our culinary adventure, it would help if we could agree on some common definitions for these terms.

  • “Scallopini,” (also scaloppini) from Italian “scaloppine,” literally means “small scallop,” but the term has come to mean a “thinly sliced piece of meat.” On a menu you may see veal (or chicken or pork or swordfish) scallopini piccata, in other words, thin slices of the meat or fish quicky sautéed and dressed with the piccata sauce.

  •  “Piccata” (think “piquant”) is the term for a sauce based on butter, lemon juice and capers. Thus we have “veal piccata,” but it is also commonly made with chicken, (“chicken piccata”), and there is no reason it cannot be made with turkey breast or pork, and it is a common preparation for Petrale sole.

  • “Saltimbocca” means that the white meat scallopini (thin slices) are prepared with a topping of prosciutto, parmesan cheese and fresh sage—so good that it literally “jumps in your mouth” (< “saltare bocca”).

  •  “Milanese” means breaded and fried, think “schnitzel.” These are essentially the same preparation. Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, ruled over an empire that included a great deal of what today is northeastern Alpine Italy. He loved enjoying “Milanese in Milan” and “schnitzel in Vienna.” The Milanese preparation can also be done with chops, but they would not be pounded thin and would be cooked longer.

  • “Tonnato” (from Italian, “tonno,” tuna) means that the white meat is “dressed” or “sauced” with a tuna sauce. Yes— maybe the pairing of fish and meat is unusual, but it really is quite delicious. Note that steakhouses often offer “surf and turf” combos, such as steak and lobster, or steak and shrimp. So why not use the creatures of the sea as a base for a sauce for the meat?

Next a word of caution. Each of these meats and fish are low in fat. They can dry out and become tough and unappealing when overcooked. So in making these preparations think “undercooked”—not necessarily rare, but pulled off the fire as soon as they lose their rareness, and not “cooked into oblivion.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently lowered the recommended cooking temperature for pork to 145 degrees, plus three minutes rest time to complete the cooking process. (*See note below about the FDA decision based on healthier pigs). Therefore why cook pork to “dryness” out of the fear of trichinosis? Pork served pink is absolutely delicious. On the other hand, most diners to not enjoy the texture or flavor of “pink chicken.” My trick is to stop cooking just before the stage where the pink disappears, and pull it off the fire immediately–it will be juicy and moist, not dry, tough and chewy. While many cookbooks, chefs and the FDA still recommend cooking chicken to 165 degrees to avoid the threat of salmonella and other bacterial contaminants, I usually stop cooking it at 145 to 155 degrees. The meat will continue to rise in temperature usually by 10 degrees while it “rests” before serving.

The first step in making the majority of these preparations is to learn how cut meat so that you can produce uniformly thin “scallops” or scallopini. It doesn’t make any difference whether you are using veal, chicken, pork or turkey. The skill is essentially the same. Cut the meat and then pound it thin. But each type of meat will require a different cutting technique. To make “scallopini” out of pork tenderloin, take the uncooked piece of pork tenderloin and cut it “across” (horizontal to the length of the pork tenderloin), essentially making round pieces. The cuts should yield pieces a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch thick. Treat a veal roast the same way you would the pork tenderloin. If cutting a chicken breast, remove the breast from the carcass, put the breast bone side down on a cutting board, remove from the bone,  and “butterfly” the breast halves. This is pretty easy to do. Put your hand flat on the top of the breast to hold it gently by firmly, and with a very sharp knife slice horizontally through the breast so you can open it like a book making it half as thick but twice as large. If using swordfish you can “butterfly” it also, slicing it horizontally, to achieve the same end result.

Now comes the fun part. Take the pieces of meat you have prepared and place them between two sheets of plastic wrap. Then using a meat pounding mallet, or if you don’t have one, use the bottom of a cast iron skillet or a ceramic coated skillet. Pound down on the meat until the pieces are uniformly  ¼ inch thick. The pieces such as from the pork tenderloin or veal roast were cut ‘across’ the grain, and the pounding broke down the collagens and connective tissues. Your meat is now tenderized, your scallopini are now prepared. Now let’s get cooking!


Piccata is an extremely easy dish to prepare once you have prepared the scallopini. Heat a large skillet, and melt butter in it until it begins to foam but does not yet tan or brown (burn). If you wish to have a little higher heat and still keep the butter from burning use half olive oil and half butter. The olive oil will raise the smoke point of the butter. If you see the oil/butter begin to smoke your pan has gotten too hot. Take it off the heat immediately. Flour your scallopini. This is most easily accomplished if you use Wondra Flour as it does not clump and it is easy to shake from the container over the scallopini. Shake off excess flour and place the scaloppini in the pan and sauté quickly for 30-60 seconds, turn the scallopini and sauté on the other side again for 30-60 seconds. Remove them from the pan. It makes no difference if you are using chicken, pork, veal or turkey. The technique is the same. Always be careful not to overcook the meat as it will dry out and become tough.

For Petrale sole piccata, most accomplished seafood chefs will quote the cooking hint from James Beard (one of America’s most revered cooking teachers and cookbook writers): cook fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Since the Petrale sole filet will be thin, probably around a quarter of an inch, and not more than half an inch, you sauté it for a minute or minute and a half on each side and turn it over. Turn and remove more quickly if you are using a thin fish like dover sole (30 seconds is enough). For swordfish, slice horizontally into half-inch filets. Do not pound fish as it will fall apart.

When the meat or fish is removed from the pan, replace it with some lemon juice, a little more butter if necessary, and some drained capers. As it is heating, stir or whisk quickly to melt the butter and emulsify (blend) the ingredients, then spoon the sauce over the meat or fish. Piccata! Can you add crushed garlic if you wish at the start of making the sauce? Sure! Or mustard! Or white wine! Each of these additions will enhance and deepen the flavors, giving each version of the sauce a special twist. Season with salt and pepper to taste, garnish with chopped Italian parsley, and serve. Voila!

Now that the basic technique is understood, lets go on to make and enjoy some of the variations.


“So good it jumps in the mouth.” The technique is the same, but the presentation is a little different. Do not flour the scallopini. Instead, lay them flat, cover with a layer of shaved parmesan, and top each off with a slice of prosciutto and a couple of fresh sage leaves. If necessary, use a skewer or toothpick horizontally through the middle of the preparation to hold it together. Then as for the piccata, sauté on each side, turn over, and finish with a splash of white wine. Cover the pan after the splash of wine is put in so the steam will flavor the saltimbocca.

Scallopini Milanese (aka “Schnitzel” in Austria)

Coat the scallopini in flour, dip in beaten egg, and then in seasoned bread crumbs. Fry in oil (the oil should be deeper than the thin coating of the pan used for a sauté). Serve with slices of lemon.


Tonnato is different in that the white meat is poached first and then thinly sliced. To poach, take a pork loin, a turkey breast, or a veal roast, and immerse in chicken broth with onions, celery, carrots, and bay leaves. (If you wish a richer or thicker sauce, boil a pigs foot in the broth before starting to poach the meats. The collagens/gelatins in the pigs foot will melt into the broth and thicken it.) Poach the meat at a very slow simmer until the desired degree of doneness is achieved, 135 to 140 degrees internal temperature for pork, 130 to 135 degrees for veal, and 150 to 155 degrees for turkey. Remove the meat from the poaching liquid and let rest until cool. While the meat is cooling strain the poaching liquid, bring it back up to a boil and reduce it until it will coat the back of a spoon. Last, take a can or jar of tuna packed in olive oil, drain the oil, and blend the tuna into the sauce to which you can also add mustard or lemon juice if desired. Slice the cooled meat thinly with a meat slicer, arrange on a platter and top with the tonnato sauce. (The tonnato sauce is thicker than a vinaigrette, but not quite as thick as mayonnaise, in other words “spreadable” but not “pourable.”) Garnish with chopped parsley, sliced lemons and/or capers.


Now that you know how to make scallopini with different meats and fish, and in different styles of presentation, the obvious question is whether or not there are different ways to prepare the same meats if they are not sliced into thin scallopini. The answer, of course, is yes. Do not pound the meats thin. Instead cut your choice of meat into one-to-two-inch pieces. Flour the meat and brown it quickly in the pan. Then make a tomato sauce (sofrito with tomato chunks) and cook the meat in the sauce. Voila – chicken or turkey or pork or veal cacciatore. Serve over polenta. Or poach the white fish in the cacciatore sauce and serve with polenta.

The southern Italians and the Arabs love to use fruit—your choice of dried apricots, prunes, raisins—with broth, onions and cinnamon to make the sauce, and then stew the meats in this sweet sauce. Make the sauce this way but add vinegar at the end and have an “agrodolce” (sweet sour sauce).

As one can see the possibilities are endless. Cook! Experiment! Use what is on hand. And most of all, ENJOY.



Additional Notes

*Why the FDA Lowered Cooking Temps for Meat [May 24, 2020]

Excerpt: Better ranching means healthier pigs
On May 24, 2020, the USDA made their update, changing their recommendation for (non-ground) cuts of pork to only require cooking to an internal temp of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, plus a three-minute rest after cooking, down from the previous minimum of 160 degrees.
The biggest reason for this? Pigs are now raised in much cleaner, more sanitary conditions. This makes them less likely to ever pick up roundworms or tapeworms, so the parasites aren’t present in the tissue.

Unlike in the past:
• Most pigs are raised indoors, in fairly controlled environments, with filters and regular cleanings.
• Pig waste is removed from their pens, so there’s less waste exposure.
• Veterinarians regularly check on pigs. A pig that is infected with parasites will show symptoms of illness and won’t develop as fast. Farmers want healthy pigs, so that they’ll grow fast and produce the highest amount of meat.
• Many barns also include air filtration systems and require clean workers, to minimize the risk of infection.
Put it all together: healthier pigs are very unlikely to carry parasites, making their meat safer for us to eat without cooking it to a higher temperature to kill said parasites.

Contributor: Ron Fenolio, CEO Veedercrest Estates and Chair – Family Winemakers of California | © 2022 Ronald L. Fenolio

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