King Ranch Chicken: Tex-Mex comfort food

12:13 PM

I'm from Texas y'all where comfort food means Tex-Mex: gooey, cheesy, spicy piles of goodness topped with even more cheese.

tex mex

King Ranch Chicken is perhaps the ultimate Tex-Mex casserole. It's comforting layers of spiced chicken, cheese, and creamy sauce. Legend has it that the original recipe came from the famed King Ranch in South Texas. Recipes for it (including my mom's) are from the 1950's and 60's and usually involve lots of processed canned cream soups which though yummy are definitely not so great for you.

I've adapted this fresher, more grown-up recipe from the fabulous Homesick Texan's Slightly Fancypants King Ranch Chicken.

Make this casserole for an easy way to impress guests or make yourself a tray for week-long meals - it reheats really well and is guaranteed to make your co-workers supremely jealous.

I devised this recipe as an easy way to use up leftover chicken but the princple of layering cheese and tortillas and sauce seems like an amazing way to sneak some veggies into your meals, too. What do you think, King Ranch Kale next perhaps?

King Ranch Chicken
Serves 5-6
Note: my recipe is for an 8x8 baking dish (because that's all I have!) and makes a very thick casserole. An 11x7 pan is the more standard way to make this casserole and will result in a thinner, easier to serve dish. To make this recipe in an 11x7 pan, increase the tortillas to 10 and the cheese to 3 cups. 

2 cups cooked and shredded chicken (I used leftovers from my Beer Braised Chicken Tacos)
juice of one lime
2.5 tablespoons of butter
1/2 a medium white onion, diced
1 bell pepper (I used a red one) diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 10oz. can of Ro-Tel tomatoes and chilis, drained
3 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup half and half
1/3 cup sour cream (totally feel free to use light sour cream)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 cups grated cheese - I used a combo of jack and cheddar
5 corn tortillas
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2.  Mix your chicken with the lime juice and 1 teaspoon chili powder. I did this in a skillet over low flame because my chicken was still a bit frozen.

3. In a large, lidded saucepan, heat butter over medium heat. Add onion, bell, and poblano pepper and cook stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes or until the onion is really good and translucent.

4. Add the garlic, flour, cumin, cayenne pepper and 2 teaspoons of chile powder and stir and cook for 1 minute.

5. Add the chicken broth and cook on low for a few minutes until the mixture thickens up. Stir in the half-and-half and Ro-Tel and cover the pot, simmer for about 15 minutes on low, stirring occasionally.

6. Uncover the pot and stir in the sour cream and half the chopped cilantro. Remove from heat.

7. Into the bottom of your 8x8 baking dish, ladle about 1/2 cup of your sauce. Next, evenly place half your corn tortillas to cover the sauce - you will have to tear the tortillas into pieces to cover the entire area. 

8. On top of your tortillas, add half your chicken, half your remaining sauce, half your remaining cilantro, and 1 cup of cheese. 

9. Create another tortilla layer and repeat the layering, leaving the cheese layer on top.

10. Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until the top is nicely browned and really bubbling. 

11. Serve will dollops of guacamole and sour cream on top if you're fancy like that.

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  1. Yum! This looks amazing :) SO my kind of Sunday night meal!

    1. Thank you lady! You've got to try it - seriously the best rainy day comfort food ever

  2. Looks yummy. I have tried casseroles before but never got them right till now. I will try this soon.

    xo Janika

    1. You've got to! This is probably my all-time favorite casserole and us Texans loooooove our casseroles. Enjoy!

  3. Thanks so much for your lovely comment, it made my day!
    Sounds like a lovely dish even though I would have to replace the chicken with something else as I'm a vegetarian...

    Have a great day,

    1. Hi Kati! I keep thinking about vegetarian ways to make this - maybe with spinach + zuchini? Stay tuned, I have feeling I'll be making a veggie-heavy version soon!

  4. Thank you for sharing, looks absolutely amazing!

    1. Thanks for stopping in Kristin - your blog is so great!

  5. I can't believe I'm admitting this, but I have never made King Ranch Chicken casserole! Yours looks amazing!!

    1. Hi Aggie! Its pretty much my favorite childhood meal and I'm really excited to have an updated, slighly more healthy version now. You gotta try it!

  6. This looks AMAZING... must try!!!