Splitting Prep

Last week, I shared a bit about my daughter’s recent birthday. Well, in addition to a fantastic chocolate-covered strawberry cheesecake, I also made chicken cordon bleu. Don’t laugh … it was her request:

It started out with me asking her what she wanted to have to eat on her birthday. Her initial response: "Chicken." When I asked if she just wanted chicken, she thought about it a bit and replied: "And ham." Of course, I was trying to prompt some side dish ideas, but her answer amused me and I figured I'd toss in cheese, as that's another of her favorites. (Hey, we're from Wisconsin!) I managed to plan some side dishes all on my own, even.

So the menu was set and now it was just up to me to figure out how to pull this off while fussing with a fancy cake, presents, gatherings at school and home, and guests visiting for several days. The answer involves figuring out how to take what might be a fussy dish and splitting up the prep work so that I could work those fussy bits into slices of time when they wouldn't cause trouble. So seasoned crumbs got made … in advance. Chicken got stuffed with ham and cheese and coated in crumbs … in advance.

Then when it was time to put things together on the big day, it was just a matter of preheating the oven and sliding a baking dish in. A little over a half hour later, the most lovely batch of ham and cheese-stuffed chicken breasts were ready to be presented on a serving plate and gobbled up by birthday girl and guests alike. I got lots of cheers and felt like it was a snap. I like to think of it as a present to myself on a busy day!

Make-Ahead Chicken Cordon Bleu

  • 4 slices white sandwich bread
  • 25 butter crackers (such as Ritz)
  • 6 T. butter, melted
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 c. shredded cheese (I used a combination of cheddar and Swiss)
  • 8 slices deli ham
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 T. honey mustard

To make the coating crumbs, toast the slices of bread. Pulse the toast and crackers in a food processor until coarsely ground. Drizzle in the butter and pulse to incorporate. Set aside.

Combine the cream cheese and shredded cheese to make a somewhat sticky mixture. Top each ham slice with 1/4 cup of the cheese mixture and roll tightly; set aside. Pat the chicken dry and season it lightly with salt and pepper. Cut a pocket into the thickest part of each chicken breast, and stuff each pocket with 2 ham-and-cheese rolls. Transfer the chicken to a baking pan, brush with a coating of honey mustard, and sprinkle generously with the coating crumbs. At this point, you can cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to bake the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Bake the prepared chicken for 30 to 40 minutes or until the crumbs are golden and the juices from the chicken run clear. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 5 minutes. For best presentation, carefully slice each chicken breast in half and set on individual serving plates.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour