Monday, November 21, 2011

Deceptively Simple Chicken Cordon Bleu

A savory chicken breast, wrapped around a flavorful center of chopped ham and molten blue cheese, covered in seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs and gently baked to golden, crispy perfection- who doesn't like Chicken Cordon Bleu? This simple, yet elegant dish is one of my favorite ways to use up leftover ham, not just because it's delicious (and surprisingly easy to make!), but also because it has some cherished memories attached.

When I was a child, I almost never ate pre-packaged, processed foods. It wasn't that my mom was a health nut, or that she feared the 'evils' of the fast food industry (although I think there's something to be said for limiting your intake of processed and fast foods), she was just a good, old-fashioned homemaker who enjoyed whipping up tasty, wholesome meals to feed and nourish our large family. Only now, since I've had my own home, have I realized just how skilled she really was, always improvising new meals and creating menus to please seven very different palates!

On the rare occasion that we did eat processed foods, however, I'd always choose the single-serving Chicken Cordon Bleu from the freezer aisle (you know the one I'm talking about - the one that somehow manages to package a zillion calories into one tiny, bronzed bundle of chicken, ham and cheesy sauce?). Served with rice and broccoli, this was better than any restaurant fare to my childish tastebuds (but not, of course, better than my mother's cooking). The meal lost a bit of its charm when I grew up to discover that I was taking in lots of extra calories and sodium with my chicken-ham-and-cheese deliciousness, but I still never lost the taste for Cordon Bleu.

Sorry for the less-than-stellar photography - we were hungry and sometimes dinner waits for no man...or woman!

Fast forward a few years to my college dining hall, where Cordon Bleu was an occasional menu item - one of the few that could actually induce me to come to dinner. The little breaded roulades were called 'Hamsters' by the freshmen, because of their (very slight) resemblance to the tiny, brown, furry creatures. You might think the name would put me off, but it didn't, and I determined that Cordon Bleu would be one of the first things I'd make when I graduated and got my own kitchen.

Of course, I've made the dish countless times since my college days, and I've tried all sorts of recipes. Over the years, I've made my own alterations, substituting bleu cheese for swiss during our time in Germany (where it was cheap and plentiful) and using a filet technique (instead of the laborious pounding and rolling) that I think simplifies the dish a lot. Now I'm ready to share my super-simple version with you so that you can enjoy your leftover honey baked ham in style! Bonus: my version is simpler and healthier than the store-bought fare, and yields chicken breasts that don't look like hamsters so there won't be any uncomfortable associations to overcome! Bon Appetit!

Chicken Cordon Bleu
As with most of my savory meals, I don't use a recipe, but these guidelines should help you create the basic dish, which can be modified according to your own taste preferences (e.g. more cheese, less ham, etc.)

Skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (one per person)
Blue cheese, crumbled (I use about 1/4 - 1/3 cup between two chicken breasts)
Ham, cooked and chopped (again, about 1/4 - 1/3 cup for two)
Whole wheat breadcrumbs (about 1/2 cup)
Thyme (or Italian seasoning), to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
water or milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a medium baking dish. In a small bowl, mix blue cheese and ham until just combined. Set aside. Fill a shallow dish (a deep plate or a shallow bowl will work) with bread crumbs, Italian seasoning or thyme, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Stir to combine and set aside.

Using a thin, sharp filet knife, make a lengthwise slit in each chicken breast to create a long, 2-inch wide pocket for the filling. Take care not to slice all the way through the chicken breast or filing may come out during cooking. Try to make the pocket as large as possible without cutting through the sides or end of the chicken breast.

Fill each chicken breast with the blue cheese mixture by hand or with a spoon. Be sure to close the pocket over the filling so that it doesn't come out during baking. Moisten the stuffed chicken breasts lightly with water or milk (you can use egg and then dredge with flour for a thicker, more even coating, if desired, but it isn't necessary). Coat evenly with seasoned breadcrumbs. Place chicken breasts in prepared baking dish and bake for 20-30 minutes or until breading is browned and chicken is cooked through. Serve and enjoy.

A few notes: I'm sorry to be so vague on the quantities, but once you have the process figured out, it really is easy to tailor the recipe to your own tastes. With that in mind, you can re-substitute swiss cheese for blue, if strong and moldy isn't your thing, and you can also use store-bought breadcrumbs, cracker crumbs, crushed oats, or any other breading that catches your fancy. I use whole wheat simply because there are always some leftover loaf ends hanging about after Matt's weekly bread-baking sessions. Just toast them up, crush them with the bottom of a glass and, voila, you've got breadcrumbs! As you can see, I've upgraded the childhood broccoli to brussels sprouts, but you can serve them with almost any veg. It's a great way to dress up a weeknight dinner or try something new for a special evening!

This post is shared at:
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  1. I know those frozen ones...which I still LOVE to this day. Your version looks much more scrumptious.

  2. Oh wow that looks amazing! Good job!

  3. This looks delicious! Gonna have to try it out.

    I love the look of your blog.

    Becoming a follower.

    If you get a chance sometime, you'll have to stop by my blog.


  4. OMG- I am drooling:)I am hosting my first ever blog hop this weekend and I would LOVE if you stopped by to link some stuff up!

    Kim @ Too Much Time