Texas King Ranch Casserole ~ Another Comfort Food Favorite

12 Dec
King Ranch Casserole Plated

King Ranch Casserole Plated

The other day my husband asked me what that chicken casserole was called my Mom always makes. “You mean King Ranch Casserole? The one with the tortillas in it?” He applied affirmative, and then I went on some rambling like “you know that’s made with those canned cream soups, and full of sodium, blah blah blah…” Then I paused after thinking a bit, then said, “You know I think Lisa Fain has a healthier version in her new cookbook. I’m almost positive she does.” I went to go grab the cookbook and he said, “She does, but when I searched online for chicken casseroles and found it, it looked really complicated and lots of ingredients.” Now I’ve read her cookbook several times front to end, and I knew there was nothing in there that intimidated me. I told him if he cooked the chicken and made the chicken broth, I would do all the rest. He was a real trooper and got all that accomplished while watching his football on Sunday. I’m quite proud of his deep golden chicken broth.

Homemade Golden Chicken Broth

Homemade Golden Chicken Broth

Now as usual, the recipe wasn’t followed except for the basic guidelines for the sauce. For one, he parboiled the chicken breasts with veggies instead of pan-frying them. Once the chicken was cooked through, he simmered the broth and veggies for about another hour until it was nice and golden, then I strained it through a cheesecloth. When it came time to prepare dinner, I had cooked,  shredded chicken all ready and some good and healthy chicken broth. I couldn’t find Ancho chili powder even in our Mexican food section at the store, but I had New Mexico Ground Chili Powder, which I figured would be a good substitute. And just FYI, if your store sells fresh Pasilla peppers, those are the same as Poblano peppers. I couldn’t figure out why our Mexicans section never had Poblano peppers so finally Googled it.  Plus  I found out that dried Pasilla peppers are called Anchos, and I did see ground Pasilla chili pepper, but oh well, I was already home by then. But anyways, you could sub a regular green pepper and just regular chili powder for either of those if you don’t like your food too spicy.

Chopped Peppers and Onions

Chopped Peppers and Onions

One of the other differences is my mom always made this with tortilla chips. My husband insisted I do the same, so I used white corn tortilla chips instead of frying up the corn tortillas. He also insisted I crunchle (not a word according to the spell check, but I like it) some up on top of the casserole so he’d have crunchies in every bite. I think it was a grand idea. This came out so delicious we all inhaled our servings in no time flat. This freezes really well, so if we don’t end up eating it all up in the next few days I’ll have a quick dinner to reheat in the freezer. Oh and my kitchen table is decorated for Christmas, so you get some festive decor with the top photo this time.

Texas King Ranch Casserole
(sauce adapted from Lisa Fain’s The Homesick Texan Cookbook)

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and shredded
4 tablespoons of butter or substitute
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 Pasilla (or Poblano) pepper, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons chili powder (I used New Mexico)
1 teaspoon of cumin
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 can of Ro-Tel tomatoes or can of diced tomatoes and green chilies
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 cup cilantro, chopped
2 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar blend
Bag of white corn tortilla chips
Ground black pepper to taste
More cilantro, sour cream, sliced avocado (optional)

Simmering King Ranch Sauce

Simmering King Ranch Sauce

Preheat oven to 375. Since I will assume you have your 2 cups of shredded chicken at hand, no matter the method of acquiring it, I’ll start with the next steps. In a large skillet, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter, then add the onions and peppers. Cook for about 10 minutes or so until starting to soften, then add the minced garlic, chili powder, cumin, and flour. Cook until a paste forms with the flour. Now add the chicken broth, can of tomatoes and chilies, and whisk really well until it starts to thicken. Next add the sour cream, the half and half (whole milk would probably work too), lime juice, half the cilantro, and a half cup of the cheese. Turn down the heat, then gently simmer until it thickens a bit more. Turn off heat and set aside, but not for too long.

King Ranch Casserole

King Ranch Casserole

Now spray a 9 x 12 casserole dish with oil, then line the bottom completely with tortilla chips.  Evenly distribute half the sauce over top, then the chicken, then the half the cheese that’s left and the rest of the cilantro. At this point I ground a bunch of black pepper over it all. Then add another layer of tortilla chips (save the rest for snacks), then pour the rest of the sauce over it, and the rest of the cheese. Place in the oven and cook about 35 to 40 minutes until bubbling. Carefully add some chrunchled tortilla chips to the top and bake another 5 to 10 minutes or so until they are starting to brown. Take it out, let it rest for a few minutes, then serve with optional cilantro, sour cream, or avocado. It’s pretty rich, so just decide yourself what you want for the extras. My family was Uber-Happy. I don’t think I’ve used that word in my blog yet, and I’m sure my daughter would say it’s outdated, but what the heck.

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