I’ve been thinking about this casserole for a couple of weeks now and am so excited to finally have been able to pull this off. The concept as I formed it in my mind was super simple, but I suddenly became stymied by how to make the sauce. I mostly knew what flavor profile I wanted, but for some reason I kept avoiding really working out the details.
Finally, after a considerable amount of time spent giving myself motivational speeches, I made the sauce. The base is a basic bechamel (white sauce). For building layers of flavor I used lemon juice, dijon mustard, and smoked paprika. This sauce turned out so delicious.
Grocery Store Dilemma–Swiss Cheese and The Man at the Deli Counter
The three main elements in chicken cordon bleu — chicken, ham, and swiss cheese–are present, of course, in this casserole. They are layered, making for very simple preparation. The only catch in making this for the first time came when I went to the deli counter at my grocery store and the man behind the counter asked me which kind of Swiss cheese I wanted. “Regular Swiss cheese,” I answered.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?” he questioned.
“Ummm…yes…no…yes…no…welllll, I thought that’s what I wanted,” I said.
“What are you making?” he asked. I explained that I was making Chicken Cordon Bleu (I didn’t want to explain the casserole thing). “Oh well, in that case,” he said, “may I suggest that you use Baby Swiss Cheese. It has a milder flavor and I like it better than regular Swiss Cheese although the regular Swiss Cheese is traditional in chicken cordon bleu.”
I felt my will power and determination melting away, like wax on a lit candle. I guess that I just have one of those faces that says, “My mouth is only pretending it knows what it’s talking about.” In the meantime, the deli guy had sliced a piece off of both of the cheeses and handed them to me to sample. There was a definite taste difference between the two cheeses. I was in crisis. I had to make another decision. I hadn’t planned on having to make any decisions about the type of Swiss cheese I was going to purchase.
As is so often the case with me, I am a tower of indecisiveness when given closely related options. So I just stood there, looking hesitant. And indecisive. “Tell you what,” the man said, “I’ll give you a 1/4 pound of each one and you can decide at home which you like best. Make half of your recipe with one kind and half with the other kind.”
“Okay. Thank you.” I replied cheerily, wanting to appear as if I really had some control over the situation. The man sliced the cheeses and handed me my packages. “Let me know how everything turns out,” he said. “I’d be interested to know which one you prefer.”
Yeah, that’s going to happen. I am the master of my fate…
I almost let myself get trapped into which ham I should use, but I squared my shoulders and didn’t waste any time with trying to figure out the perfect ham. Thin sliced deli honey ham in a one pound package in the lunch meat section. No way was I going back to the deli counter and choose between honey ham, black forest ham (yummmmm!), hickory smoked ham, Boar’s Head hams (several), etc. So, the lunch meat section had Oscar Meyer deli-style honey ham on sale in the one pound package and I made my decision without a moment’s hesitation. I AM the master of my fate…really, I am. I only needed 1/2 pound, but the extra 1/2 pound would be put to good use either in sandwiches or in a second trial run on the chicken cordon bleu casserole.
The Rest of the Story
So, which did I prefer? The Baby Swiss. Why? Because it had the word ‘baby’ in it and cute little holes instead of the big gaping holes of a good traditional Swiss cheese. That’s why. And it was delicious. And it melted all creamy and smooth. It was perfect. The deli guy was right.
Cooked chicken either from a roasted deli chicken or from a home baked or boiled chicken is the right choice for this casserole. Use both white and dark meat for flavor and moisture content. The first time I made this dish, I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts. They ended up being dry and chewy, spoiling the otherwise excellent flavors of the casserole. My best suggestion is to use a rotisserie chicken from Costco, if there is a Costco near you. I really can’t say enough good things about those Costco chickens; talk about finger lickin’ good!
A crunchy, simply seasoned panko bread crumb topping finishes this casserole beautifully. I love the texture contrast that it brings as well as the subtle flavor.
Due to the recent notoriety of this recipe and some very helpful suggestions from readers here and on Tasty Kitchen, I am changing the recipe slightly.
- The amount of butter in the topping has been lowered from 6 tablespoons to 4 tablespoons. You may even be able to get by with less. Let me know what works for you.
- Initially the sauce may taste perfectly seasoned, but after the casserole cooks, salt from the ham and the baby Swiss cheese is released, adding extra salt to the overall casserole. Therefore, I have lowered the salt in the sauce from 1 1/2 teaspoons to 3/4 teaspoons. Depending on your salt sensitivity and the saltiness of your chosen chicken, ham, and cheese, you may wish to lower the salt in the sauce more and also either lower or delete the seasoning salt in the panko breadcrumb topping.
- The sauce may seem thin, initially, so I have given the option of using 3 cups milk instead of 3 1/4 cups milk. I have found that the sauce develops nicely with about 15 minutes cooking time over medium low heat and frequent stirring. If you choose to speed things up, by using less milk and/or more flour, your results may not be as desired. My best advice is to leave the sauce recipe as it is written to preserve flavor and texture.
- AND, I just can’t help but put this personal note in here. The casserole was designed to “imitate” the flavor of chicken cordon bleu in a casserole form. It has been suggested by some folks on Tasty Kitchen that this recipe would be good with the addition of noodles or broccoli. While that may be true, and I can see how the addition of either one of those items would have their merits, this should no longer be called a chicken cordon bleu casserole. Certainly it is a good base recipe for changes and additions. The sauce would be good with quite a variety of different casseroles. However, I really have never had broccoli or noodles wrapped up in my chicken cordon bleu. Just a thought.
This post has been linked to:
- Flour Me With Love (Mix It Up Monday)