Inside Out Chicken Cordon Bleu
Chicken breasts are vehicles. The reason they’re so versatile is that they’re the carnivore’s equivalent of tofu. Even at its freshest, plumpest, and pinkest, a skinless boneless chicken breast is as inspiring as a soda cracker. After my most recent biweekly stare-down with a package of three halves, I decided to do a little engineering on the standard cordon bleu. On paper, a collaboration of chicken, ham and cheese looks aces, but I’m routinely disappointed with overly salty, dry, cakey, loaf-shaped gut bombs (I obviously fail to adhere to the fool-me-once policy regarding menu selection). When confronted with a dilemma, I often ask myself, “what would George Costanza do?” So, using the same ingredients, more or less, I made the exact opposite of cordon bleu, and my fantasy materialized. Get ready to use every pan in the cupboard.
For two (one of you always doubles up)
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 C plain breadcrumbs
1 C whole milk
1/2 C grated Gruyère cheese
1 egg, beaten
2 thin slices of ham (lunch ham) finely chopped
1/3 C vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
salt and pepper
Set your oven to 200. Get out your tenderizer and go to town on the chicken. Try not to tear as you go, but take the opportunity to work out anything you’ve got going on. Pound to 1/2″ thick. Heat the oil in a large, deep pan over medium-high until hot. Mix the breadcrumbs with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper, then spread them out on a large plate. Dip each breast in the beaten egg and coat, then cover in bread crumbs, packing them into any resistant areas. Depending on how much room you have in your pan, fry the chicken in shifts for about 5 minutes on each side, until completely cooked, then transfer them to a paper-towel-covered plate to drain for 1 minute. Move them to a cookie sheet and stick them in the oven.
While the chicken is frying, sauté the ham and a pat of butter in a small pan over medium heat. When the ham starts to brown, transfer it to a bowl and set it somewhere on the stove to keep warm. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and heat over low. On another burner, heat 2 tbsp butter in a medium pan over medium-low and once the foaming subsides, add the flour and quickly whisk with the butter to form a roux. When the roux turns tan, start pouring in the heated milk slowly, whisking constantly until the sauce is even and lump-free. Take advantage of the chance to say béchamel a few times. Fold in the cheese, allow it to melt, then add the ham and stir gently. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve the chicken with a generous amount of sauce on top and spoon it around the plate, á la Top Chef. There’s enough going on here, and the single-unit presentation works so well; let’s not complicate things with a vegetable.