Jul 202014


Yesterday I gave you a post with an English theme because I’m heading there for a while. Today I give you an Argentine theme as the obvious complement (and as a bit of nostalgia for my home which in so many ways I hate to leave).


Juan Vucetich was born on this date in 1858. He was a Croatian-born Argentine forensic anthropologist and police official who pioneered the use of fingerprinting. Vucetich was born as Ivan Vučetić on the island of Hvar in the Dalmatian region of Croatia, then part of the Habsburg Empire. In 1882, he emigrated to Argentina where he took a job in the La Plata Police Office of Identification and Statistics. After reading an article in a French journal on Francis Galton’s experiments with fingerprints as a means of identification, Vucetich began collecting fingerprints, taken from arrested men, while also making anthropometric measurements. He soon devised a useable system to group and classify fingerprints, which he called dactyloscopy. He became the director of the Center for Dactyloscopy in Buenos Aires. At the time, he included anthropometric measurements with the fingerprint files, but later discarded them because fingerprints proved to be more accurate in identifying people.

In 1892 Vucetich made the world’s first positive identification of a criminal in a case in which Francisca Rojas had savagely killed her two sons with a knife and then cut her own throat (non-fatally), trying to put the blame on an outside attacker. A bloody print (pictured above) on the handle of the knife identified her as the killer.


Fingerprinting was used not only to identify criminal suspects and convicts. It was also employed in Argentina as a method of government control. After Vucetich perfected his system, Argentinean citizens were issued an identification book – called a cedula – with a fingerprint stamp. Pictured is Vucetich’s. They are still in use today, and every citizen over the age of 16, as well as every permanent resident, is required to have one and produce it on demand. I have one, of course. They are also used for voter identification, verifying identity when using a credit card, and a host of official purposes.


Argentine police adopted Vucetich’s method of fingerprinting classification and it spread to police forces all over the world. Vucetich improved his method with new material and in 1904 published Dactiloscopía Comparada(“Comparative Dactyloscopy”). He traveled to India and China and attended scientific conferences worldwide to gather more data.

Juan Vucetich died in Dolores, Buenos Aires on 25 January 1925.

In his honor, the La Plata police academy has been named Escuela de Policia “Juan Vucetich” (Juan Vucetich Police Academy), and there is also a Juan Vucetich museum in Buenos Aires. The police Center for Forensics Examinations (Centar za kriminalistička vještačenja “Ivan Vučetić”) in Zagreb, Croatia is also named after him. The Croatian city of Pula has a memorial marker to Vucetich, owing to his service there while in the Austro-Hungarian Navy.


Here’s a classic Argentine dish in honor of Vucetich, milanesa a la napolitana. This is a variation of basic milanesa, breaded and fried steak, which is hugely popular and one of my childhood favorites. The basic breaded cutlet is ubiquitous in Europe, and, as the name implies, was brought to Argentina by Italian immigrants during the massive influx between 1860 and 1920. Italian cooking dominates Buenos Aires restaurant food with various pastas and pizzas heading the list. But all are given a unique twist. For example, it is common to find ravioli with a sauce of estofado (Argentine beef and tomato stew) in place of Italian sauces. Milanesa a la napolitana does not originate from Naples; it is thought to have been invented in the 1940’s at a Buenos Aires restaurant called Restaurante Napoli owned by Jorge La Grotta. The basic idea is to make a standard milanesa, and then top it with a slice of ham, a layer of tomato sauce, and mozzarella, and then run it under the broiler to melt the cheese.

Here’s how I was taught to make it. Prepare a shallow bowl of beaten egg and another of breadcrumbs mixed with oregano. Use high quality beef – Argentine is best, of course – to prepare thin cutlets. In Argentina milanesas tend to be rather large, but you can suit yourself as to size. Let the cutlets sit submerged in the egg for several minutes. Then transfer them, one by one, to the breadcrumbs. Turn them over several times and each time press them well into the breadcrumbs, making sure they are completely and evenly coated. Then set them aside on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile heat olive oil, to a depth of about ¼ inch, in a heavy skillet so that a clump of breadcrumbs sizzles and browns quickly. Fry the cutlets so that they are nicely browned on both sides, then place them on a broiler rack. Top each with a slice of ham, a layer of tomato sauce, and grated mozzarella. Broil them until the cheese is melted but not browned. Sprinkle with oregano. Serve with a salad of tomatoes, onions, and lettuce, or French fries.

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