Monday, February 10, 2014

Cuban Chicken Cordon Bleu

I love Cuban food, and Cuban sandwiches in particular. So when I saw a recipe for Cuban Chicken Cordon Blue in the book Stuffed by Dan Whalen, I knew I had to give it a try. The general idea is that you flatten some chicken breasts and then stuff them with ham, Swiss cheese, pickle and a smear of mustard.

As is usual when I'm making a recipe from a new book, I followed the recipe as closely as possible. Unfortunately, I ran into couple little glitches along the way. Not necessarily recipe problems, but things where I might have gone off the rails a bit. You'll see.

Technical difficulties aside, we really liked the results a lot. And to be honest, once these were cooked, you really couldn't tell that I had any difficulties. I like that in a recipe. You can mess up, but the results still look presentable and taste great.

Cuban Chicken Cordon Bleu
Adapated from Stuffed by Dan Whalen

For the chicken rolls:
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt (maybe) and pepper
6 tablespoons mustard (I suggest brown)
6 large slices rosemary ham (I suggest thin-sliced deli ham)
12 slices dill pickle
6 slices Swiss cheese

For the breading:
2 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups bread crumbs
Vegetable oil, for frying

Slice the chicken breasts the long way to form two thinner cutlets.

This was my first technical difficulty. Chicken breasts come in different sizes, and mine weren't huge. I think this would have worked better if I had bought larger chicken breasts, or if I had not sliced them into two pieces per breast. At some point, you don't want these to be overly huge, because you'd probably want each one as a serving, but you could also present these as slices, or cut each one in half if they're really huge. So ... choose your breasts wisely.

Now, pound the chicken breast halves thinner. The instructions suggested using two sheets of plastic wrap, but I put them, one at a time, into a zip-top plastic bag to pound them thinner. That's just what I do. Less mess since nothing can escape from the sides, and the plastic is thicker so it holds up to the pounding and it just seems easier to manage than some flimsy plastic wrap. But you can do it any way you like. I've been known to just flatten them with the chicken breasts sitting on my cutting board. As long as you end up with evenly-thick slices that can be rolled, you're good to go.

One at a time, you salt-and-pepper the chicken breasts. I didn't add any salt, since the ham, cheese, and pickles were all salty ingredients. I think it was a good choice. If I was going to salt, I'd add it to the flour or the bread crumbs rather than the inside part of the chicken.

So, for the mustard, I used a brown mustard because that's what I use for Cuban sandwiches. I think it makes a difference, but use yellow mustard, if that's what you have. You probably don't want to use hot Chinese mustard ... but then again, that could be interesting, too. Your choice.

Then on top of the mustard goes 1 slice of the rosemary ham. Okay, here's my second technical difficulty. I had no idea what "rosemary ham" might be. I'd never heard of it, and never seen it. Maybe it's a regional thing. I assumed it wasn't a ham steak, but the note to use a "large" slice was puzzling. When you buy deli ham or lunchmeat-style ham, the slices tend to be all the same size, but you can vary the thickness. I ended up with a slightly thick slice of regular lunchmeat-style ham, which worked, but not as well as it could have. When it came to rolling, I would have been MUCH better off with paper-thin slices of ham and using more than one slice if I wanted more ham flavor. The thick(ish) ham slices made this harder to roll. Or, then again, if my chicken breasts had been a little larger, this might have been fine. Stupid chicken breasts. Sigh.

Then you add the pickle chips and the cheese. That's easy enough.

And now the rolling. The instructions suggested using the plastic wrap to help the rolling process, but I had used one plastic bag, so my chicken breasts weren't all sitting on pieces of plastic. No biggie, except that for some reason I envisioned this rolling like a jelly roll, with a swirl of chicken and filling. No go, there. What I ended up with was ham wrapped around pickle and cheese, and chicken wrapped around that. Which actually makes more sense because with the chicken all on the outside rather than swirled in the center, it cooks more evenly.

As far as the cheese, a little log of cheese or even shredded would be fine since it didn't need to be swirly. Heck, chopped pickles mixed with the cheese might have been fun, too.

Next time, I'm going to wrap the ham around the pickle and cheese, then put the ham on top of the chicken breast and wrap the chicken around the outside and secure. I think that will be easier and the final result won't be any different.

Since one of my chicken breasts was undersized, I ended up taking one of the six pieces and using that to fill out some of the halves that were a little smaller. That worked well, and I ended up with a total of five rolls. And, once cooked, you'd never know I did that. Pretty cool.

It's suggested that you wrap each chicken breast in the plastic and twist the ends to tighten the rolls and refrigerate them as you make the rest. I didn't do that. But if I was making these for company, I might. Making them ahead and refrigerating would make this a pretty quick dinner, since you just unwrap, bread, fry, and bake. Once they're in the oven, you have time to make a salad and set the table.

Then you need a lightly greased baking dish - I used a quarter-sheet pan lined with aluminum foil rather than a baking dish, and it was just right for my 5 rolls with some space between them. So if you're using a baking dish, you'll need a pretty large one, particularly if your chicken breasts are larger than the ones I used. But ... I tend to use sheet pans for a whole lot of stuff. I do have some pretty baking dishes, but I tend to use them when I'm going to serve in the dishes.

Which ... hmmm ... if you had smaller baking dishes, you could cook these each in their own dish and serve in the dishes. That's a thought.

So ... after unwrapping the breasts from the plastic, secure with toothpicks so they don't unroll. I actually toothpicked as I made them, since I skipped the plastic wrap step. If they're plastic-wrapped for a while, they might not need the picks, but they're good insurance. I used 2 picks in each one. Some could have worked with just one, but I always use the same number in each piece when I do something like this - that's so I know how many I need to remove later.

Dredge in flour, then coat with the eggs, then coat with the bread crumbs. You know how to do this, right? Flour in one flat dish, eggs in another, and crumbs in another. Then just roll them through, coating on all sides with each ingredient.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, and brown the crumbed chicken on all sides, cooking in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan. As they're done, transfer to the baking sheet/dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. I'm not actually sure if they needed that much cooking, but I guess it depends on how thick your chicken layer is, and how long it took to brown them on the stovetop. They might be pretty close to cooked when they're done browning, but you also want to heat the filling and melt the cheese, so some oven time makes sense.

And ... ta da!

About the book:

The premise of this books is things stuffed into other things, and I've got to say there are a lot of creative ideas, and a lot of mashups of cuisines, which is something I like. So there are recipes like cheesesteak pot stickers, carnitas burrito manicotti, Italian bolognese polenta tamales, mac and cheese ravioli, and teriyaki ravioli.

Some of these are the types of recipes where you'd purposely go into the kitchen and make them totally from scratch (like the chicken I made), but others I think would be great for those days when you've got something left over and you're looking for some way to transform it into something else.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to be making the mac and cheese stuffed burgers the next time I have a little bit of mac and cheese left over, for example.

There are also a lot of recipes that are great inspirations for other things. There's a recipe for couscous salad that's stuffed into giant shell pasta. And the first thing I thought was, wouldn't that be great stuffed with tuna salad? Or a shrimp seafood salad?

That's one thing I love about cookbooks - you see one thing and think, "gee, that's great. And now let me run with that idea and try something else." With all the crazy "stuff this into that" recipes here, there's lots of room here for inspiration.

This might even get me out of my rut where all leftovers are fodder for tacos.

Dan Whalen blogs at The Food in My Beard. Go visit him there.

This book was provided to me by the publisher for review. Opinions are my own.