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October 28, 2013

Blue Ribbon Winner

Chicken Cordon Bleu
For years I thought my mother was swayed by popular culture cooking, but once I started my research, I decided she was just passing on tradition. She liked to take out her frustrations with life on a piece of meat, and it's no wonder that with two kids who argued daily, she was most comfortable with a meat mallet in her hand.

While I'm sure there were days when she was tempted to take that meat mallet to both my brother and I, she managed to keep the raised metal points on its head squarely focused on thinly sliced pieces of pork and pound them until they were wafer thin and almost transparent. Then, she would dredge them in crumbs and fry them until they were crisp. They were so good, they kept both my brother and I quiet--at least until dinner was over.

You'd probably be surprised by how many countries have a version of schnitzel, which is exactly what thinly pounded, breaded and fried meat is called. Even Romania. So when my mother was frying up her version, she was only standing on tradition.

But then, a funny thing happened. At some point, instead of just tossing them into the pan and frying them flat, she started filling them with all sorts of things, and rolling them up into tight little logs. And she wasn't just using pork anymore; she was giving chicken the same treatment.We weren't sure what to think, especially when she announced the new dish as Chicken Cordon Bleu and informed us that in French, it meant "Blue Ribbon Chicken."

We didn't know a bit of French, but we knew this dish was pretty darn good; it was probably the first thing that my brother and I had ever agreed on.

While schnitzel dates back to at least the Middle Ages where it was popularized by both Milan and Austria, Chicken Cordon Bleu is much newer on the culinary scene. A version of the dish first appeared in the 1940s and sporadically popped up in a few cookbooks and menus, the version--and the name--that we know of today didn't become popular until the late 1960s when a recipe for the dish appeared in the New York Times.

I hadn't thought of this dish in years, but the other day, I found myself staring blankly at a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and the idea struck me. Of course, it happened to be the very day I was out of both eggs and bread crumbs and I was far too comfortable to contemplate shoes and a quick run to the store, so I improvised and it was delicious!

Blue Ribbon Chicken

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, pounded thin
6 slices of ham
6 slices of Swiss cheese
3/4 cup of milk
2 teaspoons spicy brown mustard
flour
salt and pepper
Canola oil

1. Place ham and cheese on each flattened chicken thigh and roll up, tucking the uneven ends of the chicken thigh over the ham and cheese; secure with a toothpick.
2. In a bowl, mix salt and pepper into a cup or two of flour; set aside.
3. In another bowl, mix together milk and mustard (I like to add a few shakes of hot sauce) and set aside.
4. Heat oil in a large heavy frying pan.
5. Dredge each chicken piece in flour, then milk, then flour; set aside until all the pieces have been dredged and floured.
6. Fry the chicken in the hot oil until nicely browned on all sides and then bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese starts to run. Serve immediately.

1 comment :

  1. I love chicken cordon bleu - in the early 80's my Dad decided it was a good idea to go back to school for restaurant management - he'd always wanted to own one! Part of the curriculum was cooking classes too and I think we had this dish like 4 nights in a row - until he switched to making crepes, then we had crepes Suzette for the following 4 nights!

    He never did end up with a restaurant, but I am sure that sparked my love of cooking back then.

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