Male Answer Syndrome

If someone asked me last week, “What are the origins of Veal Cordon Bleu?” I would have answered, “Well, from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, of course. It’s French.” Blatant Male Answer Syndrome in action.

Male Answer Syndrome (MAS). You know. When you ask a man a question he answers definitively whether or not he knows the answer. Nota bene: An attorney friend tells us MAS is common among lawyers of all genders, as well.

To be honest, I really had no idea where Veal Cordon Bleu came from, so why brave an answer? According to Larousse Gastronomique, the cordon bleu was originally a wide blue ribbon worn by members of the highest order of knighthood, L'Ordre des chevaliers du Saint-Esprit, instituted by Henri III of France in 1578. By extension, the term has since been applied to food prepared to a very high standard and by outstanding cooks. I am wondering if this is the precursor of academic cords. (That is how you avoid being guilty of MAS. You wonder about something... ask a question... ponder a possibility.. don’t declare the answer unequivocally.)

In 1955, The New York Times published a recipe for Veal Cordon Bleu, and the paper’s next iteration was Chicken Cordon Bleu in 1967. I was pretty sure the dish was not American, and that it was French. I needed to find out for sure.

Knowing that was not a question for Markipedia, I consulted his BFF, Wikipedia. I found out the dish is Swiss. Seriously?? Yep, Veal Cordon Bleu is from the town of Brig, Switzerland, a stop on the Simplon Railway, a line that links Lausanne, Switzerland with Domodossola, Italy.

In the 1940s, a Swiss chef made a schnitzel with veal, prosciutto, and Gruyère cheese. In 1949, a recipe was published in a cookbook (Swiss? French? Swiss-French? Swiss-German?)), and, six years later, the recipe made it across the pond to the United States.

My mother, who was an up-to-date cook of elegant dishes in the 1950s and ’60s, used to make it only for special occasions, as veal leg slices were pretty expensive when on a budget.

As with many truly elegant dishes, making Veal Cordon Bleu is really quite simple and straightforward, and the time commitment is minimal. It is best served with a lemon-butter sauce, a couple of lemon slices, and some parsley. Because it’s breaded, I find no need to accompany it with rice or potatoes. Just a simple sautéed veggie on the side.

I decided to make it this week for a wine and food pairing, as I have a very special wine to share: a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Château des Fines Roches. For my notes on this exquisite wine, please head over to the Provence WineZine.

The recipe I share today is my mother’s version - and, until this post, I always assumed she got it from one of the most celebrated alumnae of Le Cordon Bleu, Julia Child. But no. It wasn't from Julia and I have no idea where she got it. The Mystery of the Cordon Bleu.

Bon appétit!

~ David

Veal Cordon Bleu

8 thin slices of veal from the leg, or loin (pounded)
4 slices prosciutto
3 ounces Gruyère (preferably Swiss), coarsely grated
2 eggs
2 cup breadcrumbs, plus more as needed
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Lay out four veal slices. Place one slice of prosciutto on each slice of veal and top each with a quarter of the cheese, pressing the cheese down firmly to help make it stay in place. Cover each with the remaining veal. Beat the two eggs in a pie plate or shallow soup plate. In another similar plate, spread out the breadcrumbs.

Dip each veal packet in egg, turning to coat, then place in the breadcrumbs, again making sure both sides are well coated. Place them on a plate and then allow them to rest in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.

In a skillet large enough to hold all four packets, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. When the butter has stopped foaming, sauté veal packets 4-5 minutes on the first side until a deep golden brown *, then about 2-3 minutes on the second. Remove from fat and place them in a baking dish. Put them in the oven for 4 minutes. Do not clean the skillet.

When ready to serve, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and the lemon juice together in the skillet. Divide the veal packets among four heated plates, then pour lemon butter sauce over top. Garnish with parsley.

Serves 4.

    * Some prefer theirs lighter, but darker provides for a better crunch!

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