By Tim H. Martin
Recipe courtesy of Rob and Sandy Kingsland.
Note: One cordon bleu often feeds two people.
Ingredients (per chicken cordon bleu):
• 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
• 1/4 pound shaved ham (hickory smoked is recommended)
• 2 slices Swiss cheese
• 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Breading - in order of use: dredge breasts in 1/2 cup all purpose flour, dip in egg wash (2 eggs, plus 1/2 cup milk), roll in 2 cups bread crumbs (Progresso’s Italian Style works well).
Frying: a deep fryer works best for this, but a skillet will work. Use vegetable oil.
Rice: about 3/4 cup cooked rice per person
Garnish with 1 orange slice, mint leaves and 1 cherry
Buy the largest chicken breasts you can find. Butterfly breasts horizontally with a sharp knife to make flatter and larger in diameter. With a rolling pin, pound breasts between sheets of parchment paper until thin, about 1/4-inch thick. Take care to not create holes. You will leave the breast on the bottom sheet of parchment to stuff and roll.
First, place ham along the centerline of the flattened breast. Next, the two slices of Swiss cheese. Don’t overstuff, so it will fold properly. Remember, you’ll be adding more ham and cheese later. Keep filling away from edges. Roll breast tightly, tucking in the ends, then toothpick or tie shut. To help breasts retain shape prior to frying, roll in the parchment paper, twist ends shut and refrigerate for one hour.
Roll chilled breasts in flour, dip in egg wash and roll in breadcrumbs.
In deep fryer, fry one at a time at 360 degrees for 80-90 seconds. If using a skillet, cook two at a time, turning carefully with tongs.
After frying, move breasts to a large oiled pan. Place a small dish of water in the pan and cover entire pan with aluminum foil to steam chicken as they bake.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Remove toothpicks, then cut each breast lengthwise and about halfway through. Spread open slightly and stuff with the shredded mozzarella and another layer of ham. I like to transfer to individual au gratin dishes at this stage. Return to oven for 10 to 15 more minutes. Check for doneness before serving.
Make the sauce and cook rice while the chicken finishes.
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 2 chicken bouillon cubes, crushed
• 1 cup half and half
• a pinch of dill weed
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1/2 cup white wine
• black pepper, to taste
Melt butter in sauce pan or double boiler on low heat. Add flour and stir until pasty. Add garlic, bouillon cubes, and half and half, stirring until sauce reaches medium thickness. Whisk in the wine, cooking until slightly runny. Add pepper and dill to finish.
Surround each cordon bleu with rice, and drizzle sauce over chicken and rice.
The Robin’s Nest Restaurant uses an orange slice, a mint leaf and maraschino cherry for garnish.
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‘We’re Still Full’
– By Tim H. Martin
I consider Robin’s Nest Chicken Cordon Bleu the crown jewel of my recipe collection. It’s so special I only prepare it on big occasions like Christmas, Thanksgiving or intimate dinners.
It’s a little time consuming, but if you do it right, your guests are in for the best home cooked meal of their lives. Don’t be surprised if they talk about it for years. Sometimes, they even applaud.
I found this dish — a prized family recipe — in the tiny town of Leoville, Saskatchewan, a place so small even a god-awful golfer like me can hit a ball from one end of town to the other.
While returning home from an elk hunt in 2005 with then-Buckmasters Editor Russell Thornberry, we detoured through Leoville to visit his friends Rob and Sandy Kingsland, owners of The Robin’s Nest Restaurant.
For weeks prior to our trip, Russ constantly lauded The Robin’s Nest as a 5-star joint. He said, “They make the best chicken cordon bleu in the WORLD — bigger and better than anything you’ll find in New York or Paris. I’ve already called the Kingslands to let them know we’re coming. They’re gonna feed us ‘til we beg for mercy!”
With an early September storm beginning to spit snow in the headlights of our rental van, Leoville seemed to spring up from the darkness of the Canadian woods. As we parked beside The Robin’s Nest, I recall thinking, if THIS is a 5-star restaurant, it’s trapped in the body of a Dairy Queen. Once inside, I began to see what Russ had been talking about.
The place smelled of hardwood smoke and something epic cooking in the kitchen. The roaring fireplace, the dim glow of Christmas lights and sounds of laughter filled the room with a charming Canadian ambiance. And, hey — is that Gordon Lightfoot on the jukebox?
While Russ and his friends reunited, I nodded off beside the cozy hearth, exhausted from a week of chasing elk. Soon a waitress tapped me on the shoulder and brought me back to life. “You havin’ the cordon bleu too, eh?”
“Oh, yes, ma’am! And, better bring a pot of coffee. We have a four-hour drive to the airport tonight.”
The feast began with the best potato soup I’ve ever tasted. In hindsight, I should’ve asked for that recipe, too.
Oval au gratin dishes of steaming chicken arrived next and, as Russ predicted, I was amazed. From the orange slice, mint leaf and cherry garnish, to the absurd overstuffing of melted cheese and ham, to the delicate sauce drizzled over golden-crusted breading, the size and sheer beauty of the cordon bleu was truly dazzling. Runaway sauce seeped into a bed of steamed rice, mingling with stray, melted cheese.
I said, “Russ, there’s no way I can eat all this!” He replied, “Oh, you will.”
Again, he was right.
We stayed much later than planned, saying good-byes while digesting one of the most memorable meals of my life. Then Russ and I drove into the night and the teeth of a Canadian storm.
Snowy wind gusts rocked the van, howling over the elk antlers strapped atop.
The feast, fellowship and all-night drive are some of my favorite memories of that hunt. Perhaps the best moment was seeing the expression on the Southwest Airlines check-in guy’s face when he saw our elk racks coming through the door of the Saskatoon airport.
When he finished wrestling the antlers onto the baggage belt, he caught his breath and said, “If you boys want breakfast, Tim Hortons Donuts opens in a few minutes.”
“No thanks,” Russ and I said simultaneously, “we’re still full.”
Editor’s Note: Sadly, the Robin’s Nest no longer exists and the owners have since retired, but they were gracious enough to share their prized family recipe. Special thanks go to Rob and Sandy Kingsland.
— Photo Courtesy Tim H. Martin