Chicken cordon bleu is a classic dish that many associate with fine French cuisine. It features a chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese, then breaded and pan-fried. While it sounds French, the origins of this dish are actually a bit murky.
The name “cordon bleu” literally translates to “blue ribbon” in French. It was originally used in the 16th century to refer to an honor bestowed upon excellent cooks. So while the term is French, there is no evidence that a dish specifically called “chicken cordon bleu” originated there.
In fact, recipes for chicken stuffed with ham and cheese didn’t appear in French cookbooks until the 1960s. It seems to have first become popular in Europe after World War II and may have roots in Swiss or Italian culinary traditions. The Swiss are known for fondue and cooking with melted cheese, so they could have been the first to think of stuffing cheese inside meat.
The earliest known recipe for chicken cordon bleu was published in 1950 in a Minneapolis food magazine. It spread across the Midwest over the next decade and was likely rebranded as a French dish due to the fancy name.
Julia Child helped popularize chicken cordon bleu nationwide when she included a recipe in her acclaimed 1961 cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her version stuffed chicken with ham and Gruyère cheese, then dipped it in egg and breadcrumbs. This became the standard way of preparing chicken cordon bleu in American homes and restaurants.
So while chicken cordon bleu sounds like an elite French dish, its true origins are a bit more humble and diffuse. The name was borrowed to lend it an air of European sophistication. But its roots as a breaded, cheese-stuffed chicken cutlet are thoroughly American. This delicious dinner entrée is not quite as authentically French as its name implies!
Easy Chicken Cordon Bleu: A Modern Classic
- 1 digital thermometer
- 2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts 1½ lb. total
- 1 pinch Kosher salt
- 1 pinch freshly ground pepper
- 4 thin slices ham or prosciutto 4 oz. total
- 4 thin slices Gruyère or Swiss cheese 4 oz. total
- ¾ cup breadcrumbs, dried
- ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp. Vegetable oil
- 4 tbsp. Dijon mustard
- Trim any fat around edges of chicken. Slice each chicken breast horizontally in two. Place each chicken breast in a ziplock bag, smooth side down and pound with a mallet or rolling pin until about ¼" thick. Season chicken all over with salt and pepper.
- Arrange chicken smooth side down on a clean work surface. Spread Dijon mustard on each breast. Layer each with one slice of ham and one slice of cheese, leaving space around the edges. Fold each end of the breast over the ham and cheese to the middle. Once turned over you achieve a nice clean finish.
- Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, 1 tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper in a shallow bowl. Whisk egg and 1 Tbsp. water in another shallow bowl. Spread flour on a plate.
- Press both sides of chicken in flour, shaking off any excess, then dip both sides into egg mixture. Coat all over with breadcrumb mixture, patting with your fingers to adhere. Transfer to a plate.
- Refrigerate for an hour to help seal the coating.
- Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high until shimmering. Cook chicken, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, 2–3 minutes per side. Transfer to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt.
- Preheat oven to 375. Bake chicken until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°, about 10-15 minutes.