Swiss Cuisine — Cordon Bleu: Cutlets Stuffed With Ham and Cheese

Switzerland has four official languages — French, German, Italian, and Romansh — and countless other languages that are spoken within its borders.  It is no surprise then that, despite the country’s small size and population, a staggering variety of food can be found as well.  Fondue, a bubbly mix of cheese and wine of Swiss origin, is popular worldwide (thanks in no small part to Big Fondue’s push to promote fondue pots as wedding gifts in the 1970s), as is the original Swiss cheese, Emmentaler.  Switzerland is also the place of origin of meringue, absinthe, and Ovaltine, so the Swiss have made a sizable imprint on the world’s dessert, drink, and instant breakfast landscapes as well.

Switzerland quick facts:

  • Capital: Bern
  • Population: 8,014,000 (2012 estimate)
  • Notable Swiss: Leonhard Euler, Roger Federer, The Family Robinson

Cordon Bleu (recipe follows) has been a mainstay of Swiss tavern menus for centuries.  Veal or pork cutlets (though surely delicious, the well-known chicken cordon bleu is an invention of clever American chefs) are pounded flat, filled with ham and cheese, breaded, and fried, and served alongside fries.  Similar dishes are found throughout the rest of Central Europe, like German jaegerschnitzel (fried pork cutlets in mushroom sauce) and Austrian Wiener scnitzel, pounded and fried veal cutlets served with a lemon wedge, but Cordon Bleu stands apart both in the use of stuffing ingredients and in thickness (thanks to its three layers of meat: top, bottom, and stuffing).

Cordon Bleu

adapted from the April 2013 issue of Saveur

MAKES 6

  • 3 boneless pork loin chops (ours weighed, in total, just under one pound)
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 large slices deli ham
  • 3 large slices deli Swiss cheese
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups bread crumbs

Step one was to make our cutlets out of our ordinary boneless pork loin chops.  We carefully cut each chop in half lengthwise to make six thin boneless pork loin chops.  Then, cutting in the same direction as before, each was sliced open:

butterflyingcutlet

…leaving about one-half inch intact on whichever long side of the original chop looked like it was the straightest.  When each half-chop was finished, it looked a little like an open magazine:

finishedbutterflycutlet
Before and after.  We were careful to leave enough of a “binding” edge to hold together for the upcoming pounding step.

We proceeded similarly with the other pieces of pork:

allcutlets

Our pork cutlets were pretty thin, but they needed to be much thinner (we were aiming for about one-eighth of an inch) to be easily stuffed with ham and cheese.  Enter the meat mallet, in all its glory:wetcutlet

Most books recommend placing a layer of plastic wrap over a cutlet before pounding (actually, most books make no mention of cutlets whatsoever).  Using a trick we picked up from Jacques Pépin in a guest appearance of his we saw on the PBS program Simply Ming with Ming Tsai, we instead sprinkled some water over each cutlet before pounding, lubricating the meat and preventing the mallet from tearing them apart upon impact.

With our water method, each cutlet was pounded thin (using the smooth side of the meat mallet; the textured side would tear the meat to shreds):

poundedcutlet
Some small holes in the center of the cutlet are fine at this point; we will patch them well enough with the ham later.

We were then ready to start putting together the cordons bleu.  First we needed to get our breading assembly line ready, starting with the bread crumbs.  Luckily (and frugally) for us, we had a bunch of old sliced Italian sandwich bread and the end of a crusty baguette that we could turn to crumbs:

breadbefore
Any kind of white bread would do.

We cut up the bread into cubes and loaded the food processor, incidentally called a robot culinaire in French (that fact has nothing to do with this recipe; it’s just awesome):

breadinprocessor

…and processed until we had fine crumbs:

crumbscloseup
Unlike with some other applications, we didn’t worry about overprocessing the bread crumbs and instead just let the processor run for about a minute.

To stuff the cutlets, first each one was patted dry with a paper towel and seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper (lightly, since both the ham and cheese are already a bit salty).  Then we tore up some ham and placed it on top in a single layer, coming no closer than a half inch from the edge of the cutlet if possible to make it easier to fold over later:

hamoncutlet
How do you improve pork? Add more pork.

Then a similar layer of cheese was added:

cheeseoncutlet

Next the cutlet needed to be folded in half over the cheese and ham.  To help everything hold together, we first folded over a small edge of the cutlet:

startingtorollcutlet

…then folded it in half in the same direction as the first small fold:

cutletrolled

Next we put our stuffed cutlets on a plate alongside the rest of our necessary breading supplies, the flour, an egg wash (two eggs beaten with two tablespoons of water), and the bread crumbs:

breadingstation
The glass of wine is optional.

Before we got started with the breading, we put about a quarter- to half-inch of vegetable oil in one of our trusty cast iron pans set over a medium burner.

The breading worked in the same way as all the other dishes we have or will ever bread and fry for The World Cup of Food, like Wiener schnitzel and Scotch Eggs.  First the cutlets are floured:

flouredcordonbleu

…then shaken off and dipped in the egg wash:

eggedcutlet

and finally coated thoroughly with bread crumbs:

breadedcutlet

Once the oil was good and hot (approximately when the handle of the pan is too hot to hold with a bare hand and the oil shimmers when agitated) the cordons bleu were fried two at a time:

cutletsfrying

After about four minutes the cutlets were golden brown on the bottom and ready to be flipped:

cutletsflipped
We still haven’t solved the issue of our photos of brown things looking black.

After another four minutes the cordons bleu were done and were drained on a wire rack until we were ready to eat:

cordonbleuresting
A breach in the hull allowed some hammy, cheesy goodness to leak out.

As we already knew, ham and cheese were delicious together, but we didn’t have any idea how good they would be inside a fried cutlet.  Simply put, this dish is amazing.

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