Chicken Cordon Bleu

I should have posted this a few weeks ago, on the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth. This seems like one of those dishes that she would encourage people to make. I am in no way comparing myself to Julia Child, but I hope you will try making this.

If you are looking for a relatively easy, but very impressive dish, Chicken Cordon Bleu is it. Combine chicken, Swiss cheese, a few slices of ham, coat it all with breadcrumbs and you have an entrée that will knock the socks off your guests or your family.

The recipe looks daunting because there are a lot of steps, but nothing about it is hard. If you are making these for company or even for a weeknight dinner, you can do all of the prep work early in the day, or the night before, and store the chicken in the fridge until you are ready to bake it.

I have seen recipes for Chicken Cordon Bleu that call for pouring melted butter on top of the breaded chicken, and others for deep-frying it. Still others call for a sauce of some sort to pour over the top. I do none of these. A little olive oil mixed into the crumbs ensures they brown and get crisp in the oven. The ham and cheese, along with the crunchy breading provide enough flavor without any extra fat or sauces.

Notes: I used grated cheese when I made the chicken for this post. I thought it would be easier to roll than slices of cheese. It was not. I had raw-chicken-tainted grated cheese falling out all over the place while I was rolling them. Use slices as specified in the recipe. Trust me, you will be much happier.

Have all of your ingredients and supplies ready before you start handling the raw chicken so you don’t have to keep washing your hands, or spreading raw chicken germs over your kitchen.

Use your sharpest knife for cutting the chicken. Few things are more frustrating than trying to cut raw meat with a dull knife. If your knife is sharp enough, it will do the hard work for you.

As Julia would say, “Bon Appetite!”

Chicken Cordon Bleu
From the Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1½ cups dry breadcrumbs
Paprika
Garlic powder
Black pepper
Cayenne powder
Salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs
6-8 thin slices Swiss cheese
6-8 thin slices deli ham

Equipment:
Toothpicks
Your sharpest knife
Gallon-sized zip-top bag
Meat mallet, rolling pin or small skillet

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Skip this step if you are assembling the chicken to bake later. Lightly grease a 9 by 13 inch casserole dish or baking pan and set aside. Have about 12 toothpicks ready beside your work area.

Place the breadcrumbs on a dinner plate and season with a few sprinkles of paprika, garlic powder, black pepper and cayenne, to taste. Add salt very sparingly – the cheese and ham will add quite a bit of saltiness. Add olive oil and mix well with a fork, until the oil is evenly distributed in the crumbs. Set crumbs aside.

Crack the eggs into a shallow bowl and beat well with a fork. Set aside.

Trim the chicken of any visible fat. Find the tenderloin of each breast and cut it free from the rest of the breast. There is a natural division between the sections – use it as a guide for your knife. Cut out and discard the white tendon from each tenderloin. Cut the remaining portion of each breast horizontally into two pieces.

Place each piece of chicken in a heavy zip-top bag and pound with a meat mallet, a rolling pin or the side of a skillet until as thin as you can get it. Arrange chicken in a single layer on a plate or platter.

Place a piece of ham on each piece of chicken. Top each with a slice of cheese. For the smaller pieces, you might have to use only half a slice each of ham and cheese. Roll up each piece of chicken as tightly as possible, like a cinnamon roll or pinwheel. Use a toothpick to hold it all together. You might need more than one toothpick to hold the larger pieces.

Once you have all the chicken rolled up and secured with toothpicks, you are ready to bread them. Dip each chicken roll first in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumb mixture being sure to coat the ends. Place in prepared dish or pan, leaving space between each piece.

If you are making ahead, cover dish with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to bake.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until crumbs are golden brown and chicken is cooked through. Some of the cheese may leak out and brown on the bottom of the pan. We fight over these browned cheese bits in my family.

This reheats well, though the coating won’t be as crispy when left over.

Download the recipe here.

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