Chicken Cordon Bleu with Glazed Carrots and Turnip Greens . $4.83

Although it seems extravagant, Chicken Cordon Bleu is nothing more than simple ingredients transformed. One of my son’s absolute favorites, it never fails to bring him to the table (or home) when it’s on the menu. Best if prepared ahead a bit so the chicken can “seal” itself, and then rested so the crumbs adhere well, breaking this recipe into stages makes this a very doable dish. The photo, below, is pan-fried. Deep frying and baking both give their own unique looking crust.

Chicken Cordon Bleu
Chicken Cordon Bleu

Now if you’ve read through my blog, you’ll know I struggle sometimes to put healthy dishes on the table my family will like – and then *bam* I come up with something like this? I dunno, it sometimes seems a bit like a cop-out, I’ll admit, but here’s my thought process:

    • My kids are all but grown now, my son has money of his own coming in and loves to pick up fast food (nuggets and fries, mostly) so I feel with a meal like this now and then, a minor splurge, I can keep his interest.
    • He’s begun to appreciate how much better and how much more satisfied he feels with a meal like this as opposed to the fast food options he chooses.
    • If I serve a meal like this, I know the main dish is extravagant, yet I can pair it with healthier sides than french-fries and a pop.

Compared to many fast food options, even a dish like Chicken Cordon Bleu doesn’t come out nutritionally to be as bad as I first feared. My son’s 10 piece nuggets are 470 calories. One of McDonald’s Chicken Club sandwiches? 970 calories. The numbers for Chicken Cordon Bleu are below, under “nutrition.” 371 calories. Yep.

Of course, if you’re not watching carbs, fats and proteins like I do, just enjoy, and I hope I didn’t ruin if for you! I know I plan on enjoying every minute of every bite of this wonderful concoction.

I’ll serve the Cordon Bleu for a cost of $3.16 and add a few Turnip Greens, $1.09 and Glazed Carrots, 59 cents. The total cost of the meal is about $4.83. Read I how shop to bring this to the table for such a great price, below.

Recipe:  Chicken Cordon Bleu Chicken

  • 4 chicken breast, 6 ounces each
  • 8 slices ham, thinly sliced – I used Buddig for this budget recipe
  • 2 ounces Swiss cheese, grated, or any cheese you wish – if cheese is soft, there is no need to grate
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme or marjoram
  • 1 cup toasted bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • salt and pepper

Preparing the Breast:

Photos are below. Slice chicken breast along the center side – slice from the fat side, almost to the middle. This is really counter-intuitive, and just the opposite of how I’ve been “instructed” from every cook book I’ve read and Tv shows I’ve seen, but if you slice the other way, from the flatter side to the thicker middle, you will always end up with a piece of chicken meat that looks like a heart with two tails, not a rectangle. Romantic, but not very easy to roll.

When you get near the outside, with about a good inch left, open it up. Trim off the bottom and make a series of small, shallow cuts vertically along the fat middle portion.

Trim off the triangle of meat at the bottom pointed end (about an inch and 1/2.) Make a series of very shallow cuts vertically along the middle of the chicken at the top fatter part to allow it to lay flat.

Put in heavy Ziploc type bag or between two sheets of plastic. This allows the chicken to “slide” as it enlarges from the pounding and prevents chicken pieces from flying around. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently pound the chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. Take care not to pound too hard because the meat may tear or create holes, and be particularly careful around any areas of the chicken where there is a seam (like two muscles attaching together) and the center. the result should be something that resembles a rectangle.

Season with salt and pepper.

Fill and shape the Chicken:

Add two slices of ham, leaving a good half inch all around, and a bit more space at the top (since you’ll be rolling “away” from you and towards the top. Add cheese, grated if not soft. Bring the bottom of the chicken towards the ham and cheese, beginning the roll, and bringing the two sides in, folding and rolling just like a Chipotle burrito. Roll over, leaving the seam at the bottom. If, as you finish the roll, you notice any ham or cheese sticking out, unroll a bit and fold them over, so that when the roll is complete, you have chicken sealed against chicken.

Squeeze the log gently to seal.  Lay a piece of plastic wrap down and place your chicken log on the plastic, seam side down, horizontal to the bottom edge of the plastic.  Roll the plastic wrap around the chicken, leaving the short sides of the chicken roll open.

Grab a hold of the plastic wrap on the left and right of the chicken, one end in each hand.  Firmly roll the chicken on the counter, letting the plastic wrap tighten.  Pick it up and roll again several times.  The plastic will tighten around the chicken, forcing it into a nicely rounded and uniform shape.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight – this helps to seal the chicken well.  This is a good time to freeze the chicken, as well, if you’d like to make some for the future.  (Thaw overnight in the fridge and continue with the recipe.)

Prepare flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs:

In three dishes of appropriate size for the rolled chicken, prepare the three step breading process. Add flour to one and season with salt and pepper. In the second, beat together eggs and water, the mixture should be fluid. In the third, mix the breadcrumbs with thyme, salt and pepper. Set out a rack for the breaded chicken.

Lightly dust the chicken with flour, making sure the ends are coated, too.  Pick up and pat gently to shake off excess.  Dip and roll in the egg mixture, making sure to get wash on the ends and in the nooks and crannies.  Finally, place in the bread crumbs, completely coating. Press gently to adhere. Place on rack and refrigerate at least an hour or overnight for best adhesion.

If using this recipe for Chicken Kiev (below, under Put Your Own Spin On it) the additional time in the fridge helps to keep the butter fairly solid while it’s cooking so it doesn’t ooze out prematurely.

Bake, Fry or Deep Fry:

Bake at 350 for about 20 – 25 minutes, deep fry at 350 for about 6 – 8 minutes, or pan fry in about 1/2 inch of oil, four minutes per side. Test for a temperature of 160 to 165 degrees. 165 is the safe temperature for chicken, a short rest, if removed at 160 degrees and lightly covered with foil, should raise the temperature to 165.

Cut from the fat side to the thin side, leaving about an inch to the edge. There will be a big lump in the middle when opened, that's ok
Cut from the fat side to the thin side, leaving about an inch to the edge. There will be a big lump in the middle when opened, that’s ok

 

Cut off the bottom inch and a 1/2, leaving a "rectangle" then make a series of small slashes, vertically around the center lumpy portion
Cut off the bottom inch and a 1/2, leaving a “rectangle” then make a series of small slashes, vertically around the center lumpy portion. Sandwich between plastic or place inside a large Ziploc and gently pound to form a larger rectangle.
Push the bottom portion up, then tuck the sides in as you roll. If you get to the end and the ham, cheese has pushed forward, fold them back inside.  Squeeze the roll gently together and place face down on plastic.
Push the bottom portion up, then tuck the sides in as you roll. If you get to the end and the ham, cheese has pushed forward, fold them back inside.
Squeeze the roll gently together and place face down on plastic.
Don't worry that your toll is a bit lumpy, we'll fix all that. Bring one edge of the plastic up over the chicken, and roll the chicken so you have chicken in a "tube."
Don’t worry that your toll is a bit lumpy, we’ll fix all that. Bring one edge of the plastic up over the chicken, and roll the chicken so you have chicken in a “tube.”
Grab each end of the plastic close to the chicken and roll the chicken back and forth, tightening the roll and forcing the chicken into an oblong shape. Let go and repeat if necessary as you roll.
Grab each end of the plastic close to the chicken and roll the chicken back and forth, tightening the roll and forcing the chicken into an oblong shape. Let go and repeat if necessary as you roll.
Do the three step breading and place on a rack. If you notice any places where the breading hasn't stuck, moisten with a bit of the egg and add the breading on by hand
Do the three step breading and place on a rack. If you notice any places where the breading hasn’t stuck, moisten with a bit of the egg and add the breading on by hand

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

  • This is an easy recipe to make ahead and freeze, either before it’s breaded or after. If  you want to freeze after it’s breaded, cook the chicken in the oil until partially browned and the crust is set, cool on a rack in the fridge, then freeze on a piece of plastic wrap or parchment. Bag and put back into the freezer. When you are ready to eat them, bake or fry frozen, adding a bit of time to the cooking time. I’ve found this is best for short-term only; without all the preservatives, the bread crumbs will taste stale after several months.
  • Chicken:  I never buy full price chicken – it goes on sale too often. Some sales are better than others, but usually every few weeks it will drop to 99 cents a pound, and I stock up then. I prefer bone in breasts over boneless (see Bone-In Chicken Breasts, How to Deal with in a Frugal Manner) but I’ll buy either bone in or boneless at this price. I portion the chicken in Ziploc bags, a breast per person for meals and freeze. If breasts are super large, I’ll trim them down to about six ounces and make tenders for the kids or use the bits for stir fry.
  • Ham:  I picked up the Buddig on sale a few weeks ago with a coupon, so my cost is about 10 cents. It regularly goes on sale with coupons, often cheap enough for low cost. This is one of the few times I’ll use a lunch meat rather than my kitchen slicer.
  • Bread crumbs: I’ve brought bread crumbs once, when a friend asked me if I’d pick up a can of Progresso Crumbs on my way to a dinner at their house. I was horrified how expensive they were. I always make my own from the left over bread and toss them in the freezer for when I need them (see my post on bread crumbs.) When I am sautéing something, I use the once I’ve toasted rather than soft bread crumbs. Since they are made from a discarded ingredient, I don’t count any cost.
  • Eggs: Stock up on eggs when they’re inexpensive, normally during Holiday weeks. Low prices in my area range from free (often with other purchases) to anywhere from 50 to 88 cents. They last for weeks in the fridge – The date on the container is a ‘buy’ date, and you can expect them to last a good six weeks past that date. If you pick up two or three packages when they’re at their low, you’ll rarely need to pay full price.
  • Refrigerate right away and never store in the door; eggs keep best in a colder part of the refrigerator, in their own box. (Then put your partially used vegetables in the door where you’ll see them and remember they need to be used ASAP – the half a bell pepper or onion, etc.)  In doubt about an egg? If it floats in water, discard, just to be on the safe side. If they float, it means the egg inside is drying out, not that it is bad in any way. Cost for 1 at 88 cents a dozen? about 7 cents.
  • Oil:  Depends on how you cook these; I’m figuring about 3/4 cup of oil for 1/2 inch, last bought on sale for $1.88 for 48 ounces.  Cost about 15 cents.
  • Carrots:  On sale for 48 cents a pound; I’ve used the recipe for Glazed Carrots.
  • Greens:  Turnip greens are on sale 99 cents a bunch, this week, and I’ve used my recipe for Braised Turnip (or other) Greens, Healthy Style.

Nutrition:

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 371 Calories; 20g Fat (48.4% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 120mg Cholesterol; 420mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 4 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Fat.

Put your own spin on it:

You can easily turn this recipe into Chicken Kiev:  Combine 4 tablespoons butter, and about 1/2 teaspoon each of parsley and tarragon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt plus 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Place mixture on plastic wrap or waxed paper and roll into small log; place in freezer.  Divide up and use instead of cheese and ham for the filling.  Omit the thyme or marjoram in the breadcrumb coating.

My Pay Off:

The bottom line is these taste great without a lot of additives. I often find these frozen in little bags, 6 ounces for a dollar, about $2.67 a pound – four of them would, of course, be $4.00. The taste cannot even begin to compare to the homemade version – for that alone, the work is more than worth it.

Recipe made in November 2011

Comments and discussion always welcome - tell me what you think.

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