Retro Recipe: King Ranch Casserole

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With the hustle and bustle that fall seems to bring, I can't think of anything better than stocking the freezer full of a couple of homemade casseroles: there is something about these piping hot, one-dish meals that can satisfy the weariest of souls. This from-scratch version of King Ranch Casserole gets rid of the cans and is destined to become a modern day classic.

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King Ranch Casserole is just like any other good Southern casserole (you know — a creamy, dreamy, oh-so-delicious hot mess), but with its own unique Texas flair. I'd say it could be likened to a Tex Mex lasagna: layers of toasted flour tortillas are smothered in a cumin- and chili powder-spiked cream sauce along with heaps of grated cheese. What is there not to like?

The King Ranch Casserole is definitely a staple at Texas potlucks, picnics, birthdays, and funerals. The recipe originated around the time that canned condensed soup was making its debut, although nobody in particular seems to claim it. I couldn't find much of its history online (if you know something I don't, let me know in the comments!) or on my bookshelf, despite there being a recipe for it in almost every community and junior league cookbook I own. 

Y'all probably know by now that I have a certain fondness for making casseroles from scratch. I have actually been tweaking this recipe for King Ranch Casserole for a couple of years now! I can confidently say that this recipe will please even the pickiest of palates because it even impressed my casserole-hating fiancé. (He thinks a casserole is merely a vehicle for Frank's buffalo hot sauce.) Don't be intimidated by the long ingredient list. I promise it's a cinch to make!

To say it is hearty is an understatement — this dish was meant to warm souls and mend heartaches. All that I'm saying is that I wouldn't plan on going for a run afterwards if I were you. And although it definitely doesn't claim everyday dinner status, I bet anyone would be excited to find this on their doorstep in a time of need. So go ahead, make two and share!

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King Ranch Casserole

Serves 6 to 8

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 (4-ounce) can green chiles
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Mexican-style chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream 
1/2 cup sour cream
3 cups cooked, shredded chicken (about 1 rotisserie chicken)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cayenne, to taste
12 (6-inch) flour tortillas
2-3 cups grated cheddar cheese, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a medium baking dish, such as an 11 x 7-inch casserole.

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers, and jalapeño and cook until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and green chiles, followed by the garlic, flour, chili powder, cumin, and salt. Stir until fragrant and starting to thicken, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the stock and heavy cream, and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes. Fold in the sour cream and chicken. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt, pepper, or cayenne to taste.

While the stock and cream are simmering, lightly spritz the tortillas with cooking spray. Arrange the tortillas on two large sheet pans and toast in the oven until crisp and golden, 8 to 10 minutes. 

Layer 3 tortillas in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Spread 1/3 of the chicken mixture over the tortillas, followed by 1/3 of the cheese. Continue with another layer of tortillas, chicken, and cheese, followed by a third layer of tortillas and the remaining chicken. Reserve the remaining cheese and tortillas. 

Bake the casserole until bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. Crush the reserved tortillas. Sprinkle the crushed tortillas and remaining cheese over the casserole and return to the oven until cheese the is melted, about 10 more minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes

  • To prepare the casserole advance, assemble it completely, reserving the crushed tortillas and cheese for the topping. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before cooking or add an additional 10 to 15 minutes to baking time.
  • The unbaked casserole can be frozen up to one month; thaw overnight in refrigerator and bake as directed. 

(Images: Nealey Dozier)

Per serving, based on 6 servings. (% daily value)
Calories
610
Fat
48.7 g (74.9%)
Saturated
26.4 g (132.2%)
Trans
0.4 g
Carbs
14.2 g (4.7%)
Fiber
2.4 g (9.6%)
Sugars
5.7 g
Protein
30.6 g (61.2%)
Cholesterol
168.9 mg (56.3%)
Sodium
1091 mg (45.5%)

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