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Thanksgiving : A Flash in the Pan : Holiday: Turkey schnitzel, it's a quick alternative to spending hours roasting and basting.

November 15, 1990|FAYE LEVY | Levy is the author of the three-volume "Fresh From France" cookbook series (E.P. Dutton)

A quick, easy and tasty turkey dinner might seem an unrealistic expectation, but that is exactly what many of us wish for when turkey season comes around.

In fact, there is an alternative to spending hours roasting and basting the holiday bird. Fast, festive meals can be planned around turkey breast slices, which are now easy to find at the supermarket.

The most delicious and foolproof way to enjoy turkey breast slices is to turn them into turkey schnitzel. In this adaptation of the famous Austrian veal dish called Wiener Schnitzel , a bread crumb coating keeps the lean turkey meat juicy. The sauteed turkey slices come out crisp on the outside and moist on the inside.

The thin crust, which you make by dipping the turkey slices successively in flour, egg and bread crumbs, prevents the turkey from sticking to the pan, holds the slices in a neat shape and protects the meat so it won't become dry.

Once the slices are coated, they should be handled with care. They should not be stacked before cooking, or moisture from the meat will make the coating gummy. Whenever sauteed turkey is kept warm, the pieces should be placed in the oven on a platter in a single layer and left uncovered so the coating will not soften.

For best results, use a heavy skillet large enough so the turkey has plenty of room. Crowding the pieces in the pan causes them to steam and their coating to become soggy. The heat for sauteing the turkey should be medium-high. If it is too low, the coating absorbs too much fat and begins to stick.

Vegetable and olive oils are ideal for sauteing. Butter imparts a lovely flavor to the turkey but can burn if used on its own. The solution is to melt the butter in the skillet with an equal amount of oil. To vary the turkey's coating, substitute whole-wheat flour for the white flour, or matzo meal or cornmeal for the bread crumbs.

Turkey schnitzel is moist enough that sauce is not needed, but you can follow the French technique of sprinkling the sauteed turkey with a zesty garnish of capers and diced lemon, then drizzling it with nut-brown butter for a wonderfully rich taste. Or, try this variation I learned from a Tunisian friend: After removing the turkey from the pan, saute 2 or 3 chopped garlic cloves and a little parsley in the oil for about 30 seconds and spoon this quick seasoning over the meat.

There aren't many dishes elegant enough to be featured often on wedding menus, yet so fast and effortless that mothers fix them as a quick lunch for their children when they come home from school. Turkey schnitzel, which I learned to prepare in Israel, serves in that country as such a dish. It is also perfect for celebrating Thanksgiving with a small group of friends and relatives, or for any occasion when you feel like serving turkey in minutes.

Steamed rice is the usual accompaniment for these golden-brown turkey slices, but bow-tie pasta tossed with a light tomato sauce also makes a pleasing partner. A salad of diced red peppers, cucumbers and green onions completes the dinner.

SPICY TURKEY SCHNITZEL

1 1/4 pounds turkey breast slices (8 slices), about 1/4-inch thick

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Dash cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup flour

3/4 cup unseasoned dry bread crumbs or matzo meal

2 eggs

1/3 cup oil

Arrange turkey in one layer on plate. Mix cumin, turmeric, black and cayenne peppers and salt in small bowl. Evenly sprinkle half of spice mixture over one side of turkey and rub into meat. Turn pieces over and repeat with second side.

Spread flour in plate and bread crumbs in second plate. Beat eggs in shallow bowl. Lightly coat turkey slice with flour on both sides and tap slice to remove excess flour.

Dip slice in egg, then in bread crumbs so turkey is completely coated, pressing lightly so crumbs adhere. Repeat, setting coated slices side by side on large plate.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough turkey to make 1 layer and saute until golden brown on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Turn carefully, using 2 wide spatulas. If oil begins to brown, reduce heat to medium. Set slices side by side on oven-proof platter and keep warm, uncovered, in oven at 275 degrees while sauteing remaining turkey. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

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