Even in the 1980s, cordon bleu had an air of atavism—something you might find at a long-in-the-tooth French restaurant in a suburb made with pork masquerading as veal. Yet stuffed-and-fried things were still popular on menus everywhere. I made variations of this recipe—say, with a sundried tomato and goat cheese filling—that would routinely sell out as a lunch special. When testing this recipe, I couldn’t find an unfrozen turkey breast in any supermarket. No matter. Turkey tenderloins (the interior white-meat muscle that’s proportionally larger on a turkey than a chicken) were widely available. Make sure each weighs at least 4 ounces. Look for a package with tenderloins that are uniform in size, and you’ll be fine. Though a traditional cordon bleu uses cooked ham, I prefer using cured ham for its salty punch. No need to break out your best serrano ham or prosciutto de San Daniele; instead look for the packaged, presliced prosciutto you’ll find in the supermarket’s aspirational cheese case.
- Place the flour, beaten eggs, and breadcrumbs in bowls or loaf pans. Set aside. Place one turkey tenderloin on a foot-long length of plastic wrap and cover with another similarly sized piece of wrap. Gently beat the turkey with a meat mallet or the side of a rolling pin until it is about 1/4 inch thick and has expanded to roughly the dimensions of a legal-size envelope.
- Remove the top piece of film and place one slice of prosciutto directly in the center, cover with two tablespoons of cheese, and top with another slice of ham. Fold the sides up and over to make a rectangular package no larger than your cell phone. Push the soft turkey meat around to cover any exposed pieces of ham. Wrap the bottom piece of film up and over, tightly around the package. For good measure, whack it gently a few times on each side with the meat mallet to ensure full turkey coverage, letting the film get as taut as it can. Repeat until all four packages are finished.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the oil to about an inch depth into a large skillet. Heat over a medium-high flame until a thermometer registers 375 degrees or until a few breadcrumbs dropped in the oil sizzle and dance. Unwrap the packages and dip them first in flour, then in beaten egg, and then in breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess as you go.
- Add them to the hot oil, making sure they sizzle audibly, and then reduce heat to medium. Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown and very firm.
- Remove to rest on absorbent paper towels. Make a small surgical cut into the center of one package to peek and make sure the turkey is cooked through. If not, transfer to oven for 5 minutes. (You can also microwave them for about 45 seconds, and if they’re fresh from the oil they’ll stay crisp.) Serve with cut lemon or caper brown butter if you’re feeling it.
John Kessler spent nearly two decades at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he wrote about food and served as the newspaper’s dining critic. A graduate of Williams College, he attended L’Academie de Cuisine culinary school near Washington, D.C. and worked for several years as a restaurant cook and chef in Washington and Denver. His writing has received four citations from the James Beard Foundation as well as the National Headliner Award for best single subject column. He is working on a book with The Giving Kitchen — the beyond-expectation resource for restaurant workers employed in the Atlanta restaurant community facing unanticipated crisis . He currently lives and writes in Chicago.