Baked Chicken Cordon Bleu
“This looks good,” said Ammi while looking at a leaflet from Spinneys, a supermarket retailer in the Middle East. It was a cool January morning. Masood left for an emergency trip to India and I went to stay with my family. From the balcony on the 15th floor of my parent’s apartment, I could see the busy Sheikh Zayed Road below, the Atlantis Hotel at a distance that seemed to be floating on a bright-blue ocean, and a sky that was crowded with thick cotton-candy clouds. Days like these do not last long in the desert so we cherish it deeply, absorbing it to our core and committing to memory to last the several, hostile summer months to follow.
“What is it?” I walked back in and tried to peer at what my mother was reading. “It’s chicken cordon bleu,” she said.
“Sounds good. I’ll make it!” I offered, mainly because I knew it would be something delightful to photograph, and probably also because I realized I have never had French cuisine before (unless French toast counts).
So here’s my take on the Chicken Cordon Bleu; the halal version, of course.
I sincerely apologize for the disorganized veggies that didn’t want to cooperate and wanted their own space on the plate. Who could possibly argue with fresh, crisp vegetables that were quickly stir-fried in rich butter and seasoned with salt and pepper?
The recipe is incredibly easy to follow. It’s the preparation that took time.
- 2 Boneless chicken breasts halves, skin removed
- a few slices of smoked beef ham (this is the part where I go halal)
- 2 cups of bread crumbs
- a few slices of cheese (the original recipe calls for Gruyere, but I didn’t have that and didn’t know what it was either, so I used the one we had at home)
- salt and pepper
- a dash of dried herbs (a mix of oregano, parsley and basil)
- Wash and clean the chicken breasts. Pat dry and cut each breast into two pieces.
- Place a chicken piece on a cutting board. Lay a plastic wrap over the chicken piece and pound with a mallet to about a 1/2 inch thickness. Do not pound too hard or the meat may tear.
- Season the chicken with salt, pepper and dried herbs.
- Layer each piece with a slice of ham and then a slice of cheese.
- Roll each chicken piece, making sure you tuck the sides in as much as possible(this prevents the cheese from oozing out too much in the final baking time, a mistake I made) and secure with a toothpick.
- Season breadcrumbs with salt, crushed red pepper, shredded cheese, and some herbs (I used the dried one).
- In another bowl, melt some butter.
- Roll chicken pieces in the butter and then roll in the breadcrumbs mix.
- Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to an hour to ensure that the breadcrumbs stay put on the chicken.
- Remove toothpicks and bake in a preheated—375°F or 190°C—oven for 20 minutes (do not overcook). Slice gently and serve hot with stir-fried vegetables and mashed potatoes on the side.
By the time I finished my photo shoot with the beauties shown above, the meal was barely warm, yet my sisters and I dug in with great enthusiasm.
“Bon appetit!” said I.
“Gracias,” replied the youngest.
“Er, that’s not French,” corrected the middle one.
Surprisingly, my first attempt at Chicken Cordon Bleu turned out really good, except for the missing cheese filling (as you can see from the pictures) because I didn’t roll the chicken pieces lightly. Learn from the mistakes of others, I tell you.
And then I would later learn that this recipe isn’t even French; it’s American. Oh, well.
After dipping her chicken pieces in tomato ketchup (shocking, I know!), cleaning up her plate and praising the meal, my youngest, biryani-loving, very desi sister goes. “So what’s for lunch?”