Eat for Eight Bucks: King Ranch Leftovers

[Photograph: Robin Bellinger]

Shopping List

1 onion: $0.50
4 ounces cheese: $0.75
1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder: $4.50
1 can beans: $1.00
Cilantro (pro-rated): $0.75

Pantry items: Butter, garlic, flour, cumin, cayenne, chile powder, milk, small can of green chiles, salt, pepper, rice.

Total cost (for 6 to 8 portions): $7.50

Maybe you still have Super Bowl meat (pulled pork, brisket, barbecued chicken) lingering in your fridge. Maybe you simply want a new way to use up the odds and ends of ordinary meals. Either way, this casserole is for you. Is it gorgeous? No way. Did we gobble it up with abandon? You bet.

Homesick Texan's recipe for "slightly fancy-pants King Ranch casserole" is a gem and a favorite in my family, but it calls for a few things I almost never have around (lime juice, fresh peppers, half and half, and sour cream). Having adapted it last summer to use up some overcooked chicken, last week I forced it to accommodate the remains of a dinner party that had not featured my best cooking. The pork needed more sauce and flavor, the beans were underseasoned, and the rice was boring; but folded into this spicy sauce and topped with cheese, they had a fantastic second act.

If you don't have quite this much meat, use whatever you have and stretch it with extra beans or vegetables. A vegetarian version should also work; just use the same sauce with five or so cups of beans and cooked vegetable cubes (such as roasted winter roots). Although tortillas are preferred, rice did not let me down. Enjoy your revivified leftovers for now, but do try the original recipe at some point, with fresh cooked chicken and all the bells and whistles. It is heavenly.

A note about the meat I used: My tried-and-true pork recipe, which really belongs to the Lee Brothers, failed me this time. (Of course it did, since I was cooking for seldom-seen friends and not just my family!) Or rather, I failed the recipe. I plugged a 10-pound shoulder into a recipe meant for a 6-to-8 pounder without upping the seasoning adequately. If I ever attempt such a large shoulder again, I will use a good deal more salt, pepper, chipotle, honey, and canned tomatoes. Obviously, you won't want to buy just a couple of pounds of bone-in shoulder to make this recipe; such a small amount won't cook up the same way. Use some creative accounting: exceed the $8 budget and buy a 6-pound shoulder even if you don't have a crowd to feed, knowing that the shredded, saucy leftovers freeze well and will save you money in the future. They are perfect for dishes like this casserole or enchiladas.

King Ranch Leftovers

About the author: Robin Bellinger is a freelance editor and shameless cookie addict. She lives in San Francisco and blogs about what she feeds her husband and her daughter at home*economics.

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Eat for Eight Bucks: King Ranch Leftovers

About This Recipe

Yield:6-8

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, if you love heat)
  • 2 teaspoons ancho chile powder (or your favorite blend)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 small can chopped green chiles (optional)
  • 2 handfuls (about 4 ounces) mild grated cheese, such as Monterey Jack
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds (about 3 cups) cooked shredded pork (or chicken or beef)
  • 1 14-ounce can beans (or 1 1/2 cups refried beans or any diced cooked vegetable)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked white rice (or 10 corn tortillas cut into strips)
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro

Procedures

  1. 1

    Preheat the oven to 350°F. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, flour, cumin, cayenne, and chile powder and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn the heat down if the pot is making aggressive noises. Then stir in the milk and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the can of chiles, if using, and a handful of cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

  2. 2

    Put the meat, beans (or vegetables), and rice (or tortillas) in a bowl. Add the sauce and cilantro and stir until everything is well combined. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

  3. 3

    Grease a 9x13 casserole lightly with olive oil and pour in the saucy mixture. Top with the remaining cheese and bake until bubbly, 25-30 minutes.

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