I live in a rapidly evolving tourist town. People visit from all over the world to river raft, mountain bike, off-road, canyoneer, base jump, and rock climb. I grew up here, and watching the explosion of visitors, hotels, stores, and restaurants has been overwhelming at times. However, growing up here also allowed for an ample of opportunities to work in a variety of fields.
My brother worked as a river guide for years, leading rafts full of adventurers through the rolling waves, dramatic drops, and whirlpools of white water rafting. He mostly worked overnight trips, which required him to not only be the raft guide, but also a hiking guide, chef, medic when necessary, and camp host.
Even though the river trips carried participants to the deep backcountry of southeastern Utah, the meals served on the trips were always first-class fine dining (with unfortunately maybe a little beach sand). My brother cooked extensively in a Dutch oven on the majority of these trips, and he has shared many of those recipes over the past few years with me.
The first Dutch oven meal he taught me was chicken cordon bleu. This dish was one of the most anticipated meals of the trip. The flavors developed in the Dutch oven make this decadent meal even better tasting then when prepared at home in a traditional oven. I think this meal is a great first-timer Dutch oven meal because it is really, really hard to mess up. And while it is great for the Dutch oven newbie, it is also so amazingly fantastic that it is the perfect meal for impressing your guests with. Sitting around the campfire with a plate full of roasted chicken and ham, melted cheese, and creamy sauce will make even the most cynical camper love the outdoors!
As always, start with getting the coals ready. This meal will need about a total of 35 coals, so I always do a couple extra because some burn down to unusable during the heating process. To heat my coals, I purchased my charcoal chimney at the Sportsman’s Warehouse for about $20.00 and it was worth every penny. All you do is crumple up a few pages of newspaper and stuff them under the base of the chimney, add your coals, and light the paper. You don’t need lighter fluid or even the match light coals. Initially, the chimney will set the coals on fire, much like the barbeque pit. After a few minutes, the coals will go down and they will start to ash over. It takes about ten to fifteen minutes for the coals to be ready. I usually pull mine from the heat when the top ones are half grey and half black. If you wait until the top ones are completely grey then the bottom ones are almost gone. A reminder I ALWAYS need when cooking with my dutch oven is to remember to not set up my dutch oven just in the dirt. The dirt will extinguish the coals (I know, common sense should take over here, but I do it all the time!) I usually set my dutch oven up on a flat rock, but you can also buy metal pans that make the process even easier!
While the coals are heating, prepare the cordon bleus. I bought the boneless skinless chicken breasts. If you want to save a little money, you can get the breasts that still have the rib meat or skin on and clean them yourself; however, when working in the outdoors I try to eliminate as many steps as possible. The breasts need to be flattened out a bit in order to achieve proper rolling of the cordon bleus. I placed my breasts into a gallon size Ziploc bag and then used a coffee cup to pound them down. When I am at home, I just lay plastic wrap over the breasts and then use a rolling pin to do this part, but when camping I do not bring a rolling pin….and the Ziploc seemed like a safer idea for protection of my chicken breast from dirt and bugs and other outdoor hazards. Anyway, the point is to find something flat and heavy and whack the crap out of the chicken breasts until they are a half or quarter inch thick.
On top of the flattened breasts, add a few slices of deli black forest ham (or whatever your favorite ham is). I suggest just buying a pre-sliced deli packaged ham because, again, it eliminates the step of thinly slicing a chunk of ham. On top of the ham, lay down your favorite piece of white cheese. Traditional cordon bleu uses Swiss cheese. I went a little wild this time and used Havarti. It was a really nice substitution.
Roll the chicken into little bundles and secure using two toothpicks. The cordon bleus are now ready for breading.
So, the next step in the process is to cover the chicken bundles with breading. Typically at home, I set up a breading station: a plate with flour for the first coating, a shallow dish with a beaten egg, and a plate with the breading. I work through each station and drop the cordon bleu into a pan at the end. For camping, I used Ziploc bags to help simplify the process. The bags were convenient for each station, also created a transportation container for the flour, and made clean-up a breeze. So, before I left I home, I filled a gallon freezer bag with about a cup of flour, and also grabbed two more gallon bags. Once cooking, I cracked an egg and added a bit of water to the second freezer bag, and also filled the third bag with Italian bread crumbs.
To bread, drop a chicken bundle into the flour, seal the bag, and give it a good shake, making sure to coat the entire bundle. Remove from the flour bag and drop in the egg bag. The final bag is the breading bag, making sure once again to the coat the entire bundle. Repeat with remaining cordon bleu bundles.
Place the cordon bleu in a single layer into the Dutch oven. Set the oven over 10-12 coals and then place 15-20 coals on the top. The chicken needs to cook at about 350 Fahrenheit. I also like to check the temperature of my oven by using my hand to guesstimate where things are at. I read this online, and while it isn’t a fool proof method, I have found that it has not failed me yet. So, place your hand about 6 to 8 inches above the dutch oven. You should only be able to hold it there for about five seconds. If you can do this, you are at about 350 degrees, which is what this chicken needs to cook at. If you can hold it there longer, say ten seconds, you are more around 250-300 and you need to add more coals. If you are only able to hold it there for a second or two, you are too hot, more around 400, and need to remove a couple of coals from the bottom! Like I said before, this is a really great starter meal because it isn’t super temperature dependent. If you are too hot or too cold, you most likely won’t destroy the meal.
Let the chicken cook for 30 minutes. During this time, prepare the sauce. I just have to add that this sauce is so good. I wanted to keep eating it, but all good things must come to an end. So, for the sauce, in a large mixing bowl whisk together a can of cream of chicken soup, half cup of sour cream, half a cup of milk, and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard.
After the chicken has been cooking for 30 minutes, pour the sauce over the top of the chickens. Allow them to continue cooking for an additional 10-15 minutes.
Plate those beautiful melted bundles of cordon bleu, drizzle with extra sauce from the pot, and serve alongside a simple salad. Camping meal fit for royalty!