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Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel Pikudei | 5770
Ask the Rabbi: Beracha on schnitzel
Question: I have heard people question what I thought was simple - that the beracha on schnitzel is Shehakol. What is the truth?
Answer: The truth is actually not simple. You will see that much of the difficulty is not halachic but culinary: why is it that many people prefer schnitzel (breaded cutlets) to cutlets that are not breaded?
Clearly, the ikar (main part) of schnitzel is the poultry inside. In general, we make a beracha on the ikar, which exempts us from a beracha on the less important ingredients (Berachot 44a), and this is usually determined by the majority (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 208:7). However, an exception to this rule is that if the minority is from the major grain species (which includes standard flour), we make Mezonot on the mixed food (Shulchan Aruch ibid.:2). This exception is on condition that the grain product has a significant role in the food’s character. A minority of Rishonim seem to understand that the grain rule is just an application of the assumption that grain usually shapes the character of the food even when it is a minority. According to this approach, in a case like ours where the poultry is clearly the main ingredient, the beracha should be Shehakol. However, the more accepted approach is that grains have a halachic precedence, because of which the beracha follows them even when it they certainly are not the main ingredient, but a significant one (see Shulchan Aruch, ibid.). The classic case where it is not considered significant is when the grain product is there to make the other food stick together (ibid.; Tosafot, Berachot 36b).
The question then is what contribution schnitzel’s coating makes. We have seen claims of all of the following elements (after each, we will write what beracha is appropriate if this is the factor): 1) The coating tastes good, as a nicely seasoned doughy food (Mezonot). 2) It captures the oil from the pan and gravy from the cutlet in one rich (albeit not so healthy) layer (the beracha can go either way, as the doughy part tastes good, but mainly because of what it absorbed; still, it would seem to indicate Mezonot). 3) It causes the spices that are placed on top of the cutlet to not slide away (Shehakol). 4) It keeps the cutlet from drying out (Shehakol). 5) It allows frying at a high temperature with a reduced chance of burning (Shehakol). Although a majority of these theories point toward Shehakol, it does not mean that that should be the end result. This is because if all of the above are true, then there are important food elements to the coating, which make Mezonot appropriate, irrespective of additional “Shehakol” benefits.
Regarding the bottom line, some important poskim say that one should make Mezonot on schnitzel when the coating is relatively thick and Shehekol when it is thin (see opinions in V’zot Haberacha, pp. 256-261). Some contemporary authorities differ if “standard” schnitzel has a thick or thin coating (ibid., Birkat Hashem III, 10:59). Rav M. Feinstein is cited as requiring berachot on each, as neither element is dominant enough to outweigh the other; others suggest first eating a little of each separately to avoid doubt. (This solution makes halachic sense, but we do not like mandating convoluted practices to avoid making halachic decisions). Of crucial importance is that the minhag is quite clearly to make Shehakol. Admittedly, such minhagim often develop because Shehakol is the safe beracha, as one always fulfills his obligation after the fact with Shehakol (Shulchan Aruch, OC 204:13). This makes particular sense since the ruling can change depending on the time, place, and piece of schnitzel. Although some say Mezonot is also a “catch-all” beracha for almost all foods (Biur Halacha 167:10), this is far less certain. Therefore, although we think that most schnitzels deserve Mezonot, there is not enough certainty in the matter to instruct people to change the standard practice of reciting just Shehakol.
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