Just placed the meal in front of my parents and stood back, waiting for their reaction. And, yes! My parents raved. They were more effusive with their accolades of my dish than they would have been of a dinner at La Côte Basque. You would have thought I wrote my first novel or created a violin concerto. I was a culinary genius.
At least, that’s how I felt. I was about 12 years old at the time.
The dish that warranted all the parental praise? Chicken Cordon Bleu. It was the very first dinner I ever cooked.
I had found the recipe when I was looking through The Joy of Cooking. (Why was I looking through a cookbook? I don’t remember exactly. I suspect I was looking for a cake recipe. My sweet tooth started early.) Hmmm, Chicken Cordon Bleu. What a fancy name!
Then I read the recipe, which basically calls for stuffing chicken breasts with ham and swiss cheese, then breading and frying them. Why, I could do that!
I quickly saw the possibility. With not too much effort, I could make a dish with a very impressive French name. The effort-to-payoff ratio seemed pretty high – which is a standard for selecting recipes I use to this day.
People don’t seem to make chicken cordon bleu much anymore – at least I don’t see it at restaurants or on paleo blogs. I suspect the recipe sits in the same file as tuna casserole and Jell-O salad. But it still holds a special place in my heart.
My recipe today is inspired by this 70s era dish. I wanted a dairy free dish, so I subbed a fig and olive tapenade in place of the cheese. The flavors are radically different, but the dish still maintains its primary qualities of being super easy to make and yet feeling slightly decadent. Matt didn’t rave about it with unbridled enthusiasm of a parent supporting their child’s first foray into the kitchen, but he did say it was really good.
A few notes about the recipe:
1) Feel free to play around with the proportions of figs and olives. I made a few versions. All were good. But this was my favorite because the brine of the olives isn’t overwhelmed by the sweetness of the figs.
2) The tapenade is delicious on its own. If you just served this with paleo crackers, it would make a great appetizer.
3) This would work with chicken breasts, but I really recommend the thighs. The extra fattiness of the meat offsets the sweetness of the tapenade.
Chicken with Olive and Fig Tapenade
Kalamata olives, 1/3 cup
Dried Black Mission figs, 3
Walnuts, ¼ cup
Dried rosemary, 1 tablespoon
Olive oil, 1 tablespoon
Lemon juice, 1 teaspoon
Water, 2 tablespoons
Salt, 1/8 teaspoon
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 10
Prosciutto, 10 slices (about ¼ pound)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Dice the olives, figs, walnuts and rosemary. You can use a food processor on a low setting, but be careful not to puree. You want to just chop finely so the flavors remain a little distinct.
- Add oil, lemon juice, water and salt. Mix together until well blended. That’s your tapenade.
- Open up the chicken thigh and place one tablespoon inside. Repeat with all thighs.
- Wrap each thigh with a slice of prosciutto. It may not cover the thigh completely, but it should cover most of it.
- Place on a tray. Bake until chicken is done, about 30 minutes.