Chicken Cordon Bleu, served with leek vinaigrette and chicken mousse stuffed leek leaves
A dish from everywhere... but not from France?Chicken cordon bleu is a dish the "paternity" of which is quite confused and claimed by different countries, Switzerland, Russia, USA, Italy... Well, the truth is that associating an ingredient with cheese and ham is not a very original idea: croque-monsieur, raclette, etc. But despite its name, and the fact that I remember having had similar cheesy (properly and figuratively) dish in my school's cafeteria, this is not a French dish and this was not created by the eponymous school located rue Delhomme in Paris, and made famous by its real or fictional students, Julia Child and Sabrina... An explanation is that it would be an Italian dish, some kind of a ménage à trois with scalopina alla milanese, saltimbocca and involtini...Furthermore, it is said that the name cordon bleu would come from the technique used by the Italian mammas to prepare the eponymous dish: they were using blue strings (cordon bleu in French) to "sew" together two slices of veal or chicken in which they had inserted some prosciutto and some cheese. If so, why is it not named cordone blu or something similar then? Yes, if it is not French, why is it called cordon bleu?
Chivalry as a legacy?As mentioned above, cordon bleu means blue string. As a matter of fact, it seemingly refers to a blue ribbon that used to hold the medal worn by the knights of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit (or Order of the Holy Spirit), an ancient French order of chivalry, also named, because of this blue ribbon, the Ordre du Cordon Bleu. This order was the most prestigious one in the French kingdom and its knights were considered as an elite group. The crème de la crème so to say, but this had nothing to do with their real or assumed culinary talents! Then, by analogy, the term cordon bleu applied first to people who were the best in their respective fields: hence the blue ribbon granted to the fastest ship on a route or to a winning horse in an equestrian competition. As you have already guessed, the term cordon bleu eventually applied to those cooks and/or housewives who were performing particularly well in the culinary arts and it is now used as such in many languages.
Full Circle?Another explanation that I like -you will see why- would be that the expression came from the girl school founded by Madame de Maintenon, the Sun King's mistress, at Saint Cyr, near Versailles, where the students trained "to be perfect housewives" and, therefore, to master cooking skills, were wearing a blue sash during their last year of attendance. The Saint-Cyr school became then the French officer training school (the French West Point if you wish), attended by my grandfather. The officer school was bombed by mistake by the American air force at the end of WWII, before being rebuilt and inaugurated by général De Gaulle in 1966 as a medium/high school... where I was served those sloppy chicken cordon bleu mentioned above!
Here is my recipe, with a few little twist as compared with the traditional recipe:
Ingredients (4 servings)
- 2 chicken breasts
- 100 g of hard cheese (here Savoy tomme, but Comté, Gruyère, Raclette, Mozzarella... will perfectly do the job. Just avoid those industrial square-shape cheeses looking, and tasting, like a product marketed by a famous insecticide company)
- 4 slices of thin Prosciutto (or other similar cured ham) slices
- Herbs (thyme, rosemary...)
- Salt, piment d'Espelette
- Put a pan with water and the herbs to boil
- Cut thick-wise the breasts and make 2 slices out of each one in each breast
- Place each slice between 2 transparent films with a little bit of oil, and pound them with a pan (and surely not with those aggressive meat pounders that would break the meat fibers) to obtain a wider and roughly square/rectangular shape.
- Place each slice on a transparent cooking film and season the side up
- Place a slice of ham so that it covers around 75% of the surface of the meat
- Place thin slices of cheese so that it covers around 75% of the the surface of the ham, i.e. 50% of the surface of the meat
- Wrap quite tightly the slice, with the ham and the cheese inside, in the film, and tighten the extremities to obtain a nicely shaped roll
- Placed your rolls in a strainer (or a pressure cooker basket or a couscoussier top) above the boiling water, lid on, and steam for around 20 minutes.
- When done, remove the films, reserve on a strainer, and let cool down
- Meanwhile prepare a breading à l'anglaise, i.e.:
- a wide container with flour (AP flour or like here smelt flour for instance)
- a wide container with 2/3 egg whites
- a wide container with bread crumb
- Roll successively each chicken roll in each container, in the order above and using a tong (if possible)
- Heat a neutral oil in a pan and color gently (burner on 5) the breaded rolls, rotating them so that each facet takes a nice golden color and a crispy texture
- Trim the extremities of each roll (so that they can stand up) and cut them, for instance, obliquely for a nice presentation