Back in the '60s, a chicken Cordon Bleu was considered the height of sophistication and managed to ingratiate itself onto every dinner party table. That it originated from Switzerland also gave the dish a certain cachet, further adding to its lofty status. The dish kicked around throughout the '70s, then had a bit of a hiatus, but was not gone long.
Call it old-fashioned or a classic (not sure there's much difference), but seriously, what is not to like about this dish of juicy chicken, salty ham and melted cheese, wrapped in its thick, crispy crumb coating? It can stay around forever for me.
There are many variations on making a Cordon Bleu, from hammering the chicken wafer-thin and making it more schnitzel-like; adding different cheeses and hams; and sometimes even filling it with a béchamel sauce. Here though, the chicken is kept on the thicker side—plump and round—then filled with a hefty slice of ham and a chunk (not a slice) of Emmental cheese, which goes all runny and gooey when cooked.
Assembling the Cordon Bleu is easy if a bit messy. To make it simpler and to get a picture-perfect finish, you can start this in advance up to just before you put the crumb on, then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and chill it well. At this stage, they even freeze well, again as long as you do this before adding the crumb.
The crumb coating can be fresh or dried bread, but I heartily recommend using Japanese panko; the airy crumbs give a light yet dense coating. Lightly frying and then baking these in the oven (rather than a traditional shallow fry) gives the chicken a golden, crisp, crunchy finish to bite into. All this said, watch out for the melted cheese spurting out; it can be rather hot, but also so, so good. —Elaine Lemm
- Prep time 1 hour 30 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- Serves 4
boneless, skinless, preferably organic, free-range chicken breasts
(75 grams) plank Swiss or Emmental cheese
thick-cut ham slices (around 4-ounces / 100 grams)
(25 grams) all-purpose flour
(200 grams) Panko bread crumbs
rice bran or vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Lay the chicken breasts on a clean cutting board. If there is a small chicken tenderloin still attached to each breast, remove them and reserve. Butterfly each breast by cutting 3/4 way through lengthwise from the breast's thicker side. The breasts should then open up like a book.
- Lay a medium-size piece of plastic wrap over one chicken breast. Using a rolling pin, gently pound the breast a few times to simply level out its thickness, not to make it skinny and flat. Lay each breasts onto a fresh sheet of plastic wrap and keep to one side while you finish the others.
- One by one, lay a piece of ham on the open breast to cover, leaving a ¼-inch border around all sides (fold and tuck any stray bits of ham onto itself to keep the border). Divide the cheese into four even rectangles to fit within the breast; the border on this one will be larger than with the ham. If you have any chicken fillets, pop one into each before closing.
- Close the breast by easing it over the ham and cheese, and the "book" is tightly shut. Using the plastic sheet underneath, tightly wrap it around the breast to make a tight parcel. Chill in the fridge as long as possible—anything from an hour to overnight is fine. This is also the point at which you can freeze the chicken for later.
- Once ready to cook, heat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
- Prepare your dredging station: On one large plate, place the flour, and add a light sprinkling of salt and black pepper. On another large place, add the breadcrumbs and spread out. Lightly beat the eggs and pour into a shallow bowl large enough to comfortably fit a chicken breast.
- Heat the oil in a shallow skillet or frying pan—at least large enough to hold two breasts at a time—over medium-high. Working quickly, dip the chicken into the flour and roll around to make sure it is dusted evenly all over. Dip into the beaten egg and again roll around, then swiftly lay into the bread crumbs and, using your hands, press the crumbs evenly; you can be pretty firm to ensure the crumbs stick. Repeat until all are coated.
- Two at a time, fry for 1 to 2 minutes to brown lightly; lift from the pan and place onto a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining two breasts. Place fried chicken breasts in the hot oven for 25 minutes until crisp and golden brown, and the internal temperature of the chicken registers at 160°F (70°C).
- Serve immediately; you want the cheese to ooze out and the chicken piping hot. The Cordon Bleu is excellent with fries and a salad, or a dish of steamed, fresh vegetables. I doubt you will have leftovers; if you do, keep them wrapped in the fridge and eat cold as they do not reheat very well.