The old handwritten recipe, in my grandmother’s cursive, said Chicken Cordon Blue. After I made it — tender breaded chicken rolled with ham and cheese — I discovered that although she penned the recipe, it wasn’t hers.
My grandmother was an amazing, vivacious, full-of-life woman who loved days at the beach, fresh corn bought from farms in the summer (long before it was en vogue again to do so) and green grapes. She did not, however, love to cook. Though she could make a mean spaghetti sauce and great lasagna and she cooked almost every day, it just didn’t fall into the category of things she loved to do. She did it because she had to — to feed her family.
A while back, I was gifted my grandmother’s 1950 edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook. It was one of only a few cookbooks that she owned, and is well-worn, with a peeling binding to prove it (any tips on fixing that?). Inside the book is a glimpse into cooking more than 60 years ago, something I love reading about. I have a whole collection of mid-century cookbooks and find them fascinating. But this cookbook is more than that … it’s a glimpse into how my grandmother cooked when she was about my age. Along with the occasional notes in the margin are recipe clippings from magazines and handwritten recipes that she stuck in there over the years.
It was in the pages of that cookbook that I found a slip of paper with a recipe for Chicken Cordon Blue written on it in my grandmother’s handwriting. Immediately I recognized the small paper, torn from the camel-colored notebook that she carried with her everywhere. It was in that notebook that she wrote grocery lists, things to remember and recipes given from neighbor to neighbor in the course of conversation.
I can practically feel the pebbled vinyl (I think) exterior as I write about that notebook, which was omnipresent in her purse. But while I knew the handwriting instantly, I couldn’t remember her ever making this dish — at least not from scratch. Nonetheless, I decided to try making this recipe first.
As these things go — attempting something I haven’t made before with sparse directions — I started making this a little later than I should have, misjudging how long prepping it would take. And when I got stumped on a step (how much oil should I be using anyway?!?), a few rushed phone calls yielded me the answer … and confirmation that this wasn’t my grandmother’s Chicken Cordon Blue, but rather likely a recipe she got from Mrs. S, the neighbor across the street.
I had to laugh when I realized that it wasn’t my grandmother’s own recipe, especially since that thought had been in my head the whole time. I mean, there is no way she would have used this many dishes and taken this many steps to make dinner (unless it was lasagna … but that’s different). No matter. It’s a great recipe for a delicious dish — and one that I plan to make again and again.
Don’t worry. It’s not that complicated. Chicken Cordon Blue starts with thin slices of raw chicken, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper and rolled with ham and Swiss cheese. You can buy them already thin-sliced or pound it thin, like I did. If you pound them, they may need to be cut into smaller pieces. Ultimately you should have 4-5 pieces of thin chicken breast for this dish.
Anyway, once they’re all rolled, I secure the chicken with toothpicks to ensure that the rolls stay put.
Then the rolls are breaded. Breading is a simple thing — just dredging in flour, egg and unseasoned breadcrumbs. Finally, it’s cooked — first by pan-frying to brown it and then baking it to finish it off.
All in all, you need between 45 minutes and an hour to make this. It’s not the fastest or simplest dish you’ll make, but I can attest that it’s delicious and really not that complicated. And frankly, it’s one of the best Chicken Cordon Blues I have ever had.
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken, either thin breasts or pounded thin (4-5 pieces)
- salt and pepper
- 4-5 slices deli Virginia ham (you need one for each chicken breast)
- 4-5 slices deli Swiss cheese
- all-purpose flour
- 1-2 large eggs, beaten (I start with one and add a second if necessary)
- unseasoned breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Lay out the chicken slices. Season lightly with salt and pepper on both sides. Top each one with a slice of Virginia ham and a slice of Swiss cheese. Roll up and secure with toothpicks.
- Lay out three bowls for dredging and put flour in one, egg in the second and breadcrumbs in the third. Dredge each chicken roll first in flour, then in egg and finally in the breadcrumbs. Set aside.
- In a deep, oven-safe skillet, add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Once it's hot, place the chicken in the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes per side until browned. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through.