It’s never a low key affair when I make chicken cordon bleu. There’s the pounding of chicken breasts into something thin enough to roll. Lots of noise involved. My cats always think I’m murdering something when I make it.
But it’s one of my husband’s favorite meals so we make it a few times a year. Again, this isn’t an easy weeknight meal, but it’s worth the time and energy you put into it. Served with mashed potatoes and a side salad, it’s delicious and decadent meal.
HFM’s Chicken Cordon Bleu
(Or the Best Damn Schnitzel in Town)
4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
4 thin slices of ham (I just used the stuff from the deli, but you could also use prosciutto)
4 long strips of Gruyere (you could grate the Gruyere, but I prefer to cut four chunks length wise off of the block, like cheese sticks. I have also used slices of Swiss cheese for this recipe with great results.)
2 cups Bread Crumbs (I used store bought, Italian seasoned bread crumbs. But you could season your own breadcrumbs with Herbes de Provence or an Italian blend of herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil and sage.)
2 Eggs, beaten
3/4 cup Flour
Seasoning Salt (optional)
Shortening (I used Crisco’s Butter Flavor All-Vegetable Shortening to do the frying, but you can use whatever oil you like. I said it was the best damn schnitzel in town, I didn’t say it was low fat.)
Gallon Sized Freezer Bags
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take a gallon sized freezer bag, open it and put one chicken breast inside. Push out all the air and seal it shut (I honestly don’t seal it shut but if you’re worried about flying chicken chunks, you can seal it.) Take a blunt object of some sort and begin pounding the breast from the middle outward in all directions. (I’ve used an old, heavy ice cream scoop for this, but I currently use my rolling pin.) Just tap it down, lift and move a millimeter away from the center and repeat. Doing this will help more evenly flatten the breast. You don’t have to use a lot of force, but you do have to take some time and do it carefully. It may take repeatedly going over the breast a few times to bring it down to the right thickness. (Most recipes will say that the breast needs to be a quarter of an inch thick. I usually just eyeball it until I think the chicken will willingly roll up.) Do this to the other three chicken breasts and set aside.
Season both sides of the flattened chicken breasts with a pinch of kosher salt and bit of back pepper to taste. Layer the ham on top of each flattened breast and then put the stick of cheese at one end of the breast from the side you want to start rolling. Carefully roll the breast from one end, covering up the cheese stick until you reach the other end. (If you were to look at the shortest side of the chicken breast, the ham and cheese will have made it look similar to a cinnamon roll.) Secure the loose flap of the breast to the main portion of the roll with toothpicks. (I use about two per breast.)
Your dredging station should be set up to be used starting with your non-dominant hand and with your last dredge station closest to the stove top. I’m right handed, so I start my three stage dredging station from left to right in this order: flour, beaten egg, breadcrumbs with the breadcrumbs on the counter closest to the stove.
A cast iron skillet is perfect for pan frying, but any deep and heavy pan will do. Fill the skillet with three large fist-sized lumps of shortening. Bring the skillet to medium heat and let the shortening melt. You want the final amount of shortening in the pan to come about half-way up the side. If, after the shortening has melted, the pan isn’t half-way filled, add more shortening in tablespoon sized increments. The last thing you want is a splash over when you put the chicken cordon bleu in the pan.
Once the shortening has liquefied and risen in temperature, throw a small pinch of the bread crumbs into the pan. You want the shortening to sizzle, but not violently. If the shortening does not sizzle when the bread crumb is put in, raise the heat. If it’s too violent, lower the temperature. Every stove is a little different, but medium heat is a good starting point.
Now bring the rolled chicken breasts to the dredging station. Put one roll into the flour using your non-dominant hand. (I like to season my flour with a tiny bit of seasoning salt, but it is not required.) Push and turn the chicken roll around until it is completely covered in flour. Next move the roll to the beaten eggs, also using your non-dominant hand. Cover the roll completely in beaten egg. Some of the flour might fall off into the egg, and that’s fine. Now remove the roll from the beaten egg to the breadcrumbs still using your non-dominant hand. Completely cover the roll with breadcrumbs.
Switch to your dominant hand to remove the breadcrumb covered roll to the hot shortening. Always place the roll in oil one end at a time. Place the end of the roll closest to you gently in the shortening and continue to lower away from you. This keeps any potential splash ups from heading toward your body or face. Do this with the other three chicken breast rolls.
By using your non-dominant hand for the flour and egg, you now have one clean hand and one messy hand. This is helpful to avoid, what Alton Brown calls, Club Hand (a condition in which moving your hand through different dredging stations causes building up of the different ingredients to form on the hand until you can’t even work anymore because you have so much dough stuck to your fingers.)
Since we’re dealing with a round object, turning the rolls over in the oil should be a four part process as least. I do find that my rolls come out sort of squared off because of this, but at least they don’t roll off of the plate. Let each side cook in the shortening for at least two or three minutes until that side is GBD (golden brown and delicious.)
Once all sides of the rolls are browned, remove them to a draining tray or just place on paper towels. Now your rolls may be completely cooked at this point. But chances are, they have tiny spots inside that have still partially raw. The nature of rolling the chicken breasts changes their surface area and they are not harder to cook all the way through. This is why I always drain the rolls off, then place them on a cookie sheet to finish in the oven. I’d say about 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven should do the trick unless you have abnormally large chicken breasts. The only way to be completely sure is to use a probe thermometer.
The USDA recommends 165 degrees Fahrenheit for the internal temperature of chicken in order for it to be considered cooked completely. However if you pull them out at 160 degrees, and let them rest covered in foil for five minutes, they will coast to the minimum safe temperature before you eat it.
Remember to remove the toothpicks you put in to keep the rolls together during cooking before you plate your magnificent creation.
It’s a lot of work but the results are very tasty and aesthetically pleasing on the plate. And putting this much effort into a meal shows your family how much you care. I made this one for Valentine’s Day for the hubby. A little wine, a little dance, a little song and you have a great evening ahead of you.
If you make this recipe, did it work for you? What did you adapt or change? I want to hear from you!