King Ranch CasseroleKing Ranch Casserole is more Tex Mex than it is Deep South, but since I have roots in that region too, I'll claim it over here as a Mississippi favorite as well! It's a simple layered casserole, typically made using seasoned, shredded chicken, fresh veggies, and layered with a sauce, in between corn tortillas and shredded cheese. Really, what is not to love about that?!
I've made this recipe both with a homemade sauce and with cream soups, and while we southerners love our cream soups in casseroles - and frankly, this is quite good when made that way - I love this dish with this simple homemade sauce. Cream soups are so common for this casserole though, that I'd go as far as to say that some folks would claim it is not an authentic King Ranch Casserole if it's not made with cream soups. Well, y'all know I am endeared to cream soups, and in my kitchen they are always a pantry staple, but the roux-based sauce of butter, broth and cream, really makes this casserole shine. While it's a little bit more time intensive, it really is worth the extra effort.
Nikki, Christy and Dianne, all from our Facebook family of foodies, each contributed their favorite recipes last spring, which became the basis for this recipe, and at least one of which seems to have a bit of a Homesick Texan spin to it, though which came first I can't really say. You can check out all the contributions that birthed this version over on our Facebook page.
Nobody seems to know the true origin of King Ranch Casserole, and while most commonly associated with the King Ranch in Texas, apparently they lay no claim to it. Doesn't matter much really, because it has been, and remains, as highly a popular casserole in Texas (though there are as many versions of it as there are Texas cooks), as it is across the U.S. community and junior league cookbook circuits. Whether it's a potluck, church supper or funeral food dish, King Ranch is always well received, no matter where it's made, though you should keep it on the mild side for those kinds of social events, just to be on the safe side.
We've got some cooler weather that's moved again, giving us another one of those very brief spurts of temporary southern winter we experience down here. This weekend would be a great time to serve this stick-to-your-ribs favorite. Besides, you probably have one of those humongous economy packs of corn tortillas languishing in your pantry as we speak, right?
Here's how to make it.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or spray a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish with non-stick spray; set aside. To 4 cups of cooked, shredded chicken, add 2 teaspoons of chili powder, 1/2 tablespoon of cumin powder, 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning or cayenne. You can cook up a whole chicken, use what you have in the freezer, or just shred up a whole rotisserie chicken from the store.
Toss well and set aside. Looks good already doesn't it?
If you haven't already, chop up those veggies. You'll want 1 cup of chopped onion, 1/2 cup of chopped red, yellow or orange bell pepper, and I used a cup of chopped poblano pepper. Now... I wanted to keep this on the milder side, so this, together with the chipotle chili powder, smoked cumin, and Rotel works for me, but here's where you can be as adventurous as you like with your heat level. If you like heat, by all means use your favorite hot chile peppers.
Now that the prep is mostly out of the way, we're gonna start with a small roux. Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a large skillet and stir in 2 tablespoons of flour. Cook and stir for about 3 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Add the chopped onion and peppers; cook and stir just until tender, but not browned.
Add the drained tomatoes, cook and stir another 2 minutes.
If your corn tortillas are not super fresh, you can first dip them into the chicken broth to pre-soften them. Then slowly add in the chicken stock or broth, stirring until fully incorporated.
Simmer for 2 minutes.
Add the cream until fully incorporated and heated through.
Remove and set aside 1/3 cup of this sauce. Boy that looks pretty good doesn't it? Makes me hungry all over again!
Add the seasoned chicken.
Toss together to blend and heat through.
Add in the sour cream, lime zest, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste.
Mix in well and remove from heat. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
Add the reserved 1/3 cup of sauce you saved to the bottom of the prepared baking dish and spread out.
Add 6 whole corn tortillas to the bottom of the dish, overlapping them. Tear pieces to fit if you need to.
Spoon the chicken mixture over the top of that.
Shred up 4 cups of cheese and combine them. I used jack and cheddar.
Sprinkle 2 cups of the mixed cheese on top of the chicken mixture.
Rinse and repeat. Well, not really... don't rinse anything!!! I don't even know why I said that, just repeat the layers - another layer of corn tortillas, then the rest of the chicken mixture.
And ending with the remaining 2 cups of cheese. Look at those yummy layers already!
Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned on top. If you try to slice this piping hot, right out of the oven, just like any layered casserole, it will spread. For nice layered slices, let the casserole rest at least 5 to 10 minutes before slicing. It's torturous but we can do this! The longer it sits, the nicer the layers will be.
Mouth watering yet? Cut into squares and serve with a dab of sour cream and a sprinkle of freshly chopped cilantro, if you like it. If you don't, just forget I said that. By the way. Leftovers? Marvelous.
Recipe: King Ranch Casserole©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 25 min |Cook time: 35 min | Yield: About 10 servings
- 4 cups of cooked chopped or shredded chicken
- 2 teaspoons of chili powder
- 1/2 tablespoon of cumin powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning or cayenne
- 1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) of unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour
- 1 cup of chopped onion
- 1/2 cup of chopped red, yellow or orange bell pepper
- 1 cup of chopped poblano pepper
- 1 can of mild Rotel tomatoes with green chilies, drained
- 1 cup of chicken stock or broth
- 1/2 cup of heavy cream
- 1/2 cup of sour cream
- 2 teaspoons of lime zest
- 1/8 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 12 corn tortillas
- 2 cups of shredded jack cheese or pepper jack
- 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
- Additional sour cream and cilantro, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish with non-stick spray; set aside. Place the chicken in a bowl and add the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and cayenne. Toss well and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large skillet and stir in the flour. Cook and stir for about 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the chopped onion and peppers; cook and stir just until tender, but not browned. Add the drained tomatoes, cook and stir another 2 minutes. Slowly add in the chicken broth, then the cream, stirring until fully incorporated and heated through. Remove and set aside 1/3 cup of the sauce. Add the chicken to the skillet, stir to heat through, add the sour cream, lime zest, cilantro, and salt and pepper; mix well and remove from heat. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
Add the reserved 1/3 cup of sauce to the bottom of the prepared baking dish and spread out. Add 6 whole corn tortillas to the bottom of the dish, overlapping them. Spoon the chicken mixture over the top of that. Mix the two shredded cheeses together; sprinkle 2 cups of the cheese on top of the chicken mixture. Repeat layers of corn tortillas, chicken mixture and ending with the remaining 2 cups of cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned on top. For nice layered slices, let the casserole rest at least 5 to 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with a dab of sour cream and a sprinkle of freshly chopped cilantro, if desired.
Cook's Notes:I used meat from a roasted chicken that I had previously cooked and frozen, broth made from Better than Bouillon, a chipotle chili powder, smoked cumin, and sweet onion. This casserole can be assembled and refrigerated or frozen. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature and bake. May also use flour tortillas.
Tip: Janice, on our Facebook page, shared this tip. Dip the tortillas in chicken broth before putting in the dish, and says it really makes a difference and is even better if you have some rich hen broth. She also adds some diced pimiento.
Shortcut King Ranch: Shortcut the process by using canned cream soups. Skip the butter and flour roux and homemade sauce (broth, cream, and sour cream) and substitute a family sized can of cream of mushroom, or a combination of two regular sized cans, one cream of chicken, the other cream of mushroom. Adjust or eliminate salt as needed. Instead of corn tortillas, you can also roughly crumble in some plain tortilla chips, though you'll need to consider the sodium level and likely eliminate the salt. Can also shred the tortillas, but you'll need more of them.
Beef King Ranch: Substitute 2 pounds of cooked and drained ground beef or about 4 cups of shredded, cooked beef roast or brisket and beef stock or broth.
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