The following is a very stimulating question I was recently asked:
I was frying schnitzels on the stovetop in three different frying pans, and realized afterwards that one of the pans was Milchig. Not only was that pan Milchig, it had been used earlier the same day to fry with butter. All of the fried schnitzels are mixed together and indistinguishable.
What should I do?
At first glance, one might be tempted to permit them. Assuming an equal number of schnitzels were cooked in each pan, the majority of them would be unquestionably Kosher. When dealing with a mixture of dry, solid items, the majority rules.
However, there is a significant exemption to this rule that is relevant to our case. The Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 101 states that a חתיכה הראויה להתכבד is not Batel. This means that any piece which is large enough to serve as a full portion that would be served to a respected guest is too important to be disregarded. A whole piece of schnitzel would meet this definition. Consequently, there are no grounds to permit full pieces. If there were any smaller sections in the mixture, they would be Kosher, as Bitul still applies to them.
Since someone needing three pans to fry his schnitzel is apparently preparing a significant quantity and the loss of forbidding all of them would be significant, it is worth exploring various alternative options for leniencies.
There is a rule in Issur v’Heter that Nat bar Nat is permitted. This means that if a Pareve food was cooked in a Fleishig pot, it may still be eaten with Milchigs. The logic behind this is that when the flavor is so far removed from its source, it is too weak to create a prohibition of Basar b’Chalav. Assuming that the schnitzels were breaded, one might suggest that the journey of the butter flavor from pan to coating to chicken is far enough removed to permit them. While the Rema prohibits Nat bar Nat in similar circumstances, b’diEved (ex post facto), which is clearly our case, he permits it.
However, there are a number of flaws in this logic. While they may be grounds to consider the breading a separate entity from the chicken inside (based on the Sefer HaTeruma), there are other hurdles that are more problematic.
Firstly, the Maharshal rules the roasting (which would include frying with a minimal quantity of oil) is forbidden absolutely.
Furthermore, the Chavos Da’as writes that the Heter of Nat bar Nat is only relevant when the transfer of flavors is done in distinct stages. Here where the butter passes from the pan to the coating to the chicken simultaneously, it would be forbidden.
Additionally, many Poskim write that a transfer of flavor only reduces it when the intermediary is a vessel, and the coating would not count.
Finally, it is likely that there is chicken flavor in the coating as well, and the butter and meat flavors are meeting before either has been significantly reduced.
Another potential angle for leniency would be to suggest that the butter flavor may not penetrate the entire piece of schnitzel, and if only a thin layer is forbidden the stringency of not being Batel would not apply. Generally speaking, boiling spreads flavor evenly throughout an object, while dry heat only transfers it to the outer layer.
However, the exception to this rule is a fatty food, where the melting fat facilitates the transfer of flavor. The Rema assumes that all foods are fatty for this purpose, and even for the Mechaber who is more lenient, we would have to know that the schnitzel is lean. Furthermore, the butter is certainly fatty, though its status after being absorbed in the pan is questionable.
Furthermore, even for lean dry objects, we rule that the flavor travels a fingers-depth, not merely a thin layer. With schnitzel, this would include the entire thickness of the piece.
This also assumes that a very minimal quantity of oil was utilized for the frying, which is not a given. If its depth was significant, it will be considered boiling which always affects the entire piece.
There are other factors that could be addressed in this context, but I think it is sufficient to state that the bottom line is that there are no satisfactory grounds for leniency, and all of the schnitzels must be discarded.