We are terribly fond of chicken here in The English Kitchen. I think it is the one protein that we eat the most of and we probably have it at least twice a week. We may have a red meat once a week, or even less than that . . . and we always have fish at least once as well . . . but chicken, well, it's a real mainstay in our kitchen.
More often than not, I will serve Chicken Breasts. Chicken was not something we had very often when I was growing up. Occasionally my mother would do a Roast Chicken as a treat . . . and every once in a Blue Moon she would cook Maryland Fried Chicken, which we loved. It was Chicken Breasts, dipped in egg and cracker crumbs and then fried. When that was on the menu, we knew were in for a real treat! Chicken used to be a lot more expensive in the olden days.
Nowadays it's fairly affordable, depending on which type you buy. If you are not bothered as to it's source or the ethics of responsible rearing, well then you could probably eat chicken every night of the week, coz that kind of chicken is cheap as chips. I am a bit more bothered about these things. The Toddster worked on a Battery Chicken Egg Farm in Germany when he as younger for a short time and it was more than he could stomach . . . I have a real heart for animal cruelty and so I don't have a stomach for eating any kind of meat that's not raised according to high standards of animal welfare . . . so we eat chicken about twice of three times a week, and it's always free range.
I know if I had a large family to feed it might be different, but for now it's just us two here, and I can afford to pay a bit more. I know not everyone has that option. I love chicken breasts because they are like a blank canvas just waiting to be written upon. They take to so many different flavours and styles of cooking . . . and as long as you don't overcook them, they make a pretty good basis for a delicious supper.
Today I cooked them a la Cordon Bleu. I know . . . which interestingly enough is not to be confused with the French Cooking School of the same name. Cordon Bleu actually originated in Switzerland . . . and was done using veal cutlets, stuffed with cheese and ham. Chicken Cordon Bleu is, I believe . . . an American invention. Cordon Bleu merely means Blue Ribbon . . . and this is my blue ribbon chicken!
I broke all the rules of course. But I think I have made it better. I rolled the ham around the cheese, a good Swiss Emmenthal in this case, and then I cut a pocket into the chicken breast and stuffed it inside. No risk of the cheese oozing out because it's inside the ham. I also happen to believe that if you can cut through the fibres of a chicken breast like that . . . you are going to have one very tender chicken breast. I could be wrong, don't quote me on that . . . I only know for sure that it seems to work.
That was the only rule I broke though. I then floured, egged and crumbed it as per normal, or pane (pan-aaaa) as it was called in Culinary School. I added butter to the crumbs ahead of time so that I wouldn't have to fry them, and then I baked them for a few minutes at a high temperature, and then finished them off at a lower temperature.
The end result . . . perfectly cooked Chicken Cordon Bleu . . . crisply crumbed on the outside, moist and tender on the insides and chock full of oozing cheese and ham.
In short. Fabulous. But don't take my word for it. Try them out yourself and see if I'm not telling the truth. ☺
*Simple Chicken Cordon Bleu*
Serves 4 to 6
A traditionally complicated dish, simplified. Delicious and quite easy really!
25 buttery round crackers
4 slices of sourdough bread
6 TBS butter, melted
8 thin slices of deli ham
8 ounces of emmenthaler cheese, grated (about 2 cups, Swiss)
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I like to use free range chicken)
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large free range eggs
2 TBS Dijon mustard
100g of plain flour (about 1 cup)
Preheat the oven 225*C/425*F/ gas mark 7. Have ready a large baking tray with a lip. Stir together about 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of black pepper in a small bowl.
Put the crackers into a food processor and blitz until they are coarsely ground. Dump into a bowl. Do the same with the bread, dumping it into the same bowl. Pour the melted butter over all and toss together. Spread the crumb mixture out over the baking tray. Bake them in the hot oven, stirring them from time to time, until golden brown. This can take anywhere between 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and place in a shallow bowl. Set the tray aside.
Wash your chicken breasts, pat dry and then cut a deep pocket in the thickest part of the breast, with a sharp knife, making an opening of about 3 inches, sliding the knife carefully inside to create the cavity without cutting through the meat to the back or the bottom. Lay your slices of ham out on a board. Top each slice with 1/8th of the grated cheese (about 1/4 cup), then roll the ham tightly around it to cover the cheese completely. Stuff two of these ham rolls in each cavity of the chicken.
Beat the eggs, together with the mustard, in a shallow bowl. Place the flour in another shallow bowl. You should have three shallow bowls laid out. Place them in this order: Flour, Eggs and then finally bread crumbs. Season each chicken breast all over with some of the salt and pepper mix. Roll each in the flour, then dip into the egg to coat, finally rolling each in the toasted crumbs, pressing the crumbs on to help them adhere. Place them onto a clean baking sheet, when done, leaving a bit of space between each. (At this point you could refrigerate them until you are ready to bake them if you wished.)
Place them into the heated oven and bake for 10 minutes at the higher temperature. Reduce the oven heat to 200*C/400*F/ gas mark 6, and bake for a further 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and the chicken juices run clear when it is pierced with a fork. Transfer to a platter and tent with foil. Allow to rest for five minutes before serving.