Food history: chicken cordon bleu

Unlike other Food History posts, the background of chicken cordon bleu is not a long one – it is in fact a fairly recent addition to the American palate.

Chicken cordon bleu is not one of those recipes that was simply created one day; it is a dish that evolved over time.

Chicken cordon bleu as we know it today consists of breaded chicken breasts pounded thin, stuffed with a slice of ham and a slice of Swiss cheese. It can be baked or fried, and often has a creamy sauce poured over it.

Let us first examine the name: the term “cordon bleu” refers to a special order of French knights. Literally, cordon bleu translates to “blue ribbon.” Henry III of France in 1578 established the tradition of the highest order of knighthood bearing a blue ribbon.

Since that time, cordon bleu has come to apply to the highest order of food and cooking. According to FoodTimeline.com, “The analogy no doubt arose from the similarity between the sash worn by knights and the ribbons (generally blue) of a cook’s apron.”

Interestingly, the dish chicken cordon bleu has nothing to do with the prestigious culinary institutes by the name of Le Cordon Bleu.

 As alluded to earlier, chicken cordon bleu is a dish that has transformed over the centuries. More than one dish contributed to the chicken cordon bleu of modern times.

The dish that likely best inspired chicken cordon bleu is chicken Kiev. Chicken Kiev is chicken stuffed with seasoned or herbed butter, dredged in breadcrumbs, and fried. 

It was developed in Paris using veal during the late 1840s. The veal was later swapped out for the chicken in Moscow. 

On a similar note, veal cordon bleu came about prior to chicken cordon bleu. Veal cordon bleu recipes date back to 1955; the first mention of chicken cordon bleu in print was in 1967, via The New York Times.

Today, several versions exist of chicken cordon bleu (different meats, different cheeses, etc.), as well as a variety of ways to prepare the recipe. 

Usually, the chicken is butterflied and rolled up with the ham and cheese, pinwheel style.

Sometimes, it appears more stuffed than rolled up, with the cheese a melty ball of goodness in the middle.

Or, you can take the easy way out and simply lay the slices of ham and cheese over a chicken breast. 

My own chicken cordon bleu recipe is here – it’s a  fairly simple version of the acclaimed meal, but the flavor is all there.

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