The milanesa was brought to the Southern Cone by Italian immigrants during the mass emigration called the Italian diaspora between 1860-1920s. Its name probably reflects an original Milanese preparation, cotoletta alla Milanese, which is similar to the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel.
A milanesa consists of a thin slice of beef, chicken, veal, or sometimes pork, eggplants, tempeh or soy. Each slice is dipped into beaten eggs, seasoned with salt, and other condiments according to the cook's taste (like parsley and garlic). Each slice is then dipped in bread crumbs (or occasionally flour) and shallow-fried in oil, one at a time. Some people prefer to use very little oil and then bake them in the oven as a healthier alternative. A similar dish is the chicken parmigiana.
By adding tomato paste, mozzarella cheese, and sometimes ham, a dish called milanesa a la napolitana (Milanese in the Neapolitan style) was created. "Neapolitan" is not named for the city of Naples, but because it was first made and sold in Restaurante Napoli owned by Jorge La Grotta in Argentina in the 1940s.
In Argentina milanesas are frequently served hot with fried or mashed potatoes; this dish is known as milanesa con papas fritas or milanesa con puré. In Argentina and Uruguay, it's often topped with a fried egg, known as milanesa a caballo (milanesa riding horseback). They are often eaten cold as a sandwich filling, with salad. Lemon juice and sometimes mayonnaise are commonly used as seasoning. Their low cost and simple preparation makes milanesas a popular meal.
Milanesa Kaiser, or escalopa as it is known in Chile, is a variant (where normal milanesas are also eaten) reminiscent of cordon bleu or valdostana, with a layer of melted cheese between the beef and a layer of ham. A classic Chilean version is called escalopa a lo pobre, topped with french fries, sautéed onions and fried eggs, akin to lomo a lo pobre.
In Mexico and the Southern United States, milanesas are eaten in some regions, often in a torta (a sandwich made with bolillo or telera bread). In northern Baja California, Sonora, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua (due to U.S influence), it features lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise like a traditional sandwich, but the milanesa is also common in these regions as the main course of a meal. The milanesa memela napolitana is made with a thick fried tortilla with a milanesa on top, with ham, tomato sauce and grated cheese. In Mexico, milanesa usually refers to the preparation method; any type of meat that is pounded thin, breaded and fried might be referred to as a milanesa. In the northern state of Nuevo León, perhaps due to the influence of German and Czech immigrants, the dish known as milanesa is extremely popular and stands on its own as a main dish in most restaurants. It is usually served with french fries, refried beans, rice, and a lettuce salad.
In Panama, they are most commonly made of thinly sliced beef (usually sirloin steak), but also thin chicken fillet. Lime juice is squeezed over them before serving or eating them, and often they are also seasoned with hot sauce. They are eaten with white rice and other side dishes such as salad, lentils or beans. The latter two are poured over the rice, as they are usually served in Panama while the salad is served off to the side where there is still space left on the plate. When served as sandwiches, they are known as emparedado de milanesa or sandwich de milanesa when tomatoes, onions, lettuce, ketchup, and/or American cheese (queso amarillo i.e. yellow cheese). Pan de molde (sandwich bread) and pan flauta (a Panamanian type of baguette that is thicker and softer) are the types used to make these sandwiches.
In the Philippines, milanesa is known as carne frita, and is cooked in much the same way as described above (meat pounded until thin, flour, egg, breadcrumbs, fried). Admittedly, it is not as popular in the country as it is in South America, and it is served mainly in people's homes, not in restaurants. The families that do eat it usually serve milanesa/carne frita with white rice, a bean stew of some sort (for instance, white beans with a dark leafy green; also fabada), sometimes an American-style potato salad with cut green beans added, and often, chili ketchup and/or a mayo-ketchup mixed sauce not unlike the South American salsa golf. It is virtually never served as a sandwich.
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