Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sundays with Sparky - Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu

Yes, you read that right - but it's not my fault, I swear!  It's that darn TV and all those ideas it has in it!  You see, we were having a quiet morning - I was relaxing and watching a bit of Food Network, and Sparky was sitting beside me, drawing comics.  Tyler Florence pulled out some prosciutto, and like a cured-ham-retriever on the hunt, Sparky was instantly all ears - nearly in full point at the television set.  "Mom," he said breathlessly "I wanna do THAT!"

What girl could say no?  Besides, I had unused prosciutto sitting in my fridge.  So the next day I went to the grocery store and picked up some boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I'm usually a whole-bird or dark meat kinda gal) and after pricing some gruyere...took a breath and picked up some much cheaper Queso Quesadilla instead (you could use a swiss cheese, too, if your wallet doesn't permit French cheeses.)

So, I assembled our fairly simple mise-en-place: chicken, prosciutto, and shredded cheese, and then called him over.  We'd seen Tyler using a meat mallet to flatten the plastic-wrapped chicken, but for even more protection, and to keep the mess at a minimum,  I opted for plastic wrap inside a heavy ziploc, and a small heavy saucepan -
the larger your "hammer," the less likely you are to tear the meat, and keeping the cutlet whole is important. I let Sparky go to town and he pretty much figured it out himself right away - the only thing to remember is that chicken breasts have a "thin" part (the pointy part) and a "thick" part (rounded) and you need to adjust your whamming accordingly.  After a short while we had a somewhat gargantuan, well-flattened piece of meat (it's also important to note - chicken breast has an "inside-" the side that was cut off the bone, and an "outside-" the side that was under the skin.  It's not crucial, but it's better if the "outside" is up when you are flattening.)

I will say, our cooking projects had never attracted attention in the neighborhood before - but since our kitchen table is next to a picture window right by the sidewalk, passers-by kept shooting us a quizzical look as they saw Sparky brandishing my smallest saucepan and whacking the $^% out of something they couldn't see. (I hope they didn't think it was our dog!)  I was no help, I flinched with each blow - but pounded out is what I asked for, and pounded out is what we got!

After we decided that the meat was pounded to an even thickness throughout, the chicken breasts were turned "outside" down, and then covered in a thin layer of prosciutto.  A small line of shredded cheese went down the middle, and then they were rolled up like maki.  Sparky made a "sausage" using the plastic wrap as casing, and into the fridge they went until we were ready to cook them.

I then had Sparky help me with our side dishes: he trimmed wax beans which I sauteed, szechuan-style, with caramelized shallots, sesame oil and soy sauce, and cut up potatoes, red onions, and garlic which we drizzled with olive oil and stuck on the grill in a cast-iron skillet next to the chicken, where Dad helped us finish up the cooking.

Since I'm not yet comfortable with Sparky using the grill, I took over from him at this point - after bringing out the chicken from its rest in the fridge, I decided to "sew" up the opening in the chicken breast with skewers to replace the "glue" of fried batter the typical recipe uses (toothpicks would have worked better.)  I then seasoned and oiled the outside well, and Dad put them on indirect heat on our grill for about 20 minutes, until they no longer had any "give" when you sqeezed them with tongs (don't squeeze so hard you lose your filling, though!)

They came out delicious, much healthier than their fried cousins, and just as tasty - some of the prosciutto crisped up and had a bacony quality, and some stayed nice and hammy.

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