Why It Works
- Reserved simmering broth is used to cook the vegetables and sauce, as well as add moisture to the shredded chicken mixture.
- Shredded chicken is given a flavor blast of Tex-Mex seasoning with chili powder, cumin, cayenne, chile sauce, and lime.
- Replacing the usual canned cream soup with light sour cream and a little flour to thicken the sauce kicks the entire dish up a notch.
I'm not a food snob when it comes to "quick" casseroles. It brings my husband grief, but I secretly like them all, including green bean casserole, chicken crunch, and my mom's cheesy sloppy-joe-bake topped with biscuits popped out of a can (though I will tweak when necessary). I recently added a new one to my list at the suggestion of a friend (name withheld for their protection). It's called King Ranch chicken casserole, a layered enchilada/lasagna-like blast of seasoned chicken, corn tortillas, shredded cheese, cream of chicken soup, and cream of mushroom soup. How had I not heard of this before?
I couldn't find a history to this Tex-Mex dish—even Wikipedia had nothing—but I'm sure it's not a coincidence that most of these casseroles have at least one canned soup in the ingredient list. Would anyone from Campbell like to weigh in here?
While I believe there is a time and place for "open up a can" meals, King Ranch chicken inspired me to "kick it up a notch." Heck, if I've gotta make a special trip to the only place in Singapore that sells corn tortillas, Belmonte Latin Foods, I want this to be really good.
Doing just that wasn't hard nor take a lot of time. I simmered chicken in chicken broth, reserved the flavorful broth for the sauce, and shredded and tossed the chicken in a mixture of Mexican spices and a good kick of hot sauce (no pansies on my ranch). I sautéed peppers, jalapeños, and onions, and used canned diced tomatoes, but instead of the creamed soups, I stirred in light sour cream and a bit of flour to thicken. Chopped cilantro is a must, and the scent of the baking corn tortillas will make your kitchen smell awesome.
Straight from the oven, King Ranch chicken casserole is a goopy slab of Tex-Mex bliss. And—what a surprise—my better half even went looking for the cold leftovers the next day.
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast (or thigh meat)
3 to 4 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons hot chile sauce (see notes)
1 teaspoon grated zest and 1 teaspoon fresh juice from one lime
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 small onions, finely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, finely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 jalapeños, finely chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
3/4 cup light sour cream
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, divided
12 corn tortillas (see notes)
10 ounces Monterey Jack or Colby cheese, shredded
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease a 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Halve chicken breasts on the bias so that the pieces have approximately the same thickness.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring 3 cups chicken broth to a simmer. Add chicken, adding more broth if necessary so that chicken is just covered with liquid. Simmer gently until chicken is just cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate, strain and reserve 1 1/2 cups broth.
When chicken is cool enough to handle, tear into small bite-size shreds. Place in a bowl and add chili powder, cumin, cayenne, chile sauce, lime zest, lime juice, 1/4 cup reserved chicken broth, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss until well combined and set aside.
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat butter over medium heat to melt. Add onions, peppers, jalapeños, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until vegetables have softened and are beginning to turn golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Sprinkle flour over vegetables and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in drained tomatoes and then whisk in remaining 1 1/4 cups chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Cook until mixture comes to a boil and is thickened, about 1 minute.
Remove from heat and stir in sour cream, chicken, and 1/2 cup cilantro leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour reserved tomato juice (up to 1/2 cup) into bottom of pan, spreading to coat evenly. Place 3 to 4 tortillas in a single layer in pan. Spread 1/3 chicken mixture over tortillas. Sprinkle 1/3 cheese over top.
Layer another 3 to 4 tortillas over cheese. Spread 1/2 chicken mixture and 1/2 cheese over top. Top with tortillas, remaining chicken mixture, and remaining cheese. Bake until casserole is thoroughly heated through, bubbling, and golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before sprinkling with remaining cilantro and serving.
For the chile sauce, I used a Mexican green chile hot sauce. The heat of the dish can be adjusted by adding less/more of the sauce of your choosing.
The pan that I used was slightly smaller than a 13- by 9-inch pan, so I needed fewer tortillas for each layer. For a standard 13- by 9-inch pan, you may need more. I also cut some tortillas in half to fit the rectangle shape.
13- by 9-inch baking dish
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 23g||30%|
|Saturated Fat 13g||64%|
|Total Carbohydrate 33g||12%|
|Dietary Fiber 5g||18%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 71mg||357%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|