King Ranch Chicken Casserole is a cozy, comfort food classic with melty layers of chicken, tortillas, and cheese...and this from-scratch version features a simple homemade sauce with NO canned condensed soups!
I think it's probably time to confess that I've been holding out on y'all. It's true. After all, it's taken me 1 year, 3 months, and 29 days of blogging to share with you one of my all-time favorite recipes. But today, the wait is over. I proudly present to you comforting, classic, King Ranch Chicken Casserole!
Many (if not most) of you have probably heard of the King Ranch. Founded in 1853 in south Texas, it remains one of the largest ranches in the world. And while the King Ranch has a fascinating and storied history, King Ranch Chicken Casserole seems to be a tribute in name only, with no record of it being historically connected to the actual cattle ranch in any way. Nevertheless, this is a cozy, gooey, cheesy casserole whose appeal is as vast as the state of Texas!
I've mentioned before that my mom is from Germany, and while she cooked plenty of American -- and even Texan -- fare while I was growing up, King Ranch Chicken Casserole never made it on the menu. My first time trying this delicacy was in college, when my roommate's mom would occasionally visit on the weekends and cook it for our household of poor, starving, college students. It quickly became a favorite. So I jotted down the recipe on an index card way back then and I've been making it ever since!
I like to think of this dish as the one that (in part) won me the heart of my husband. You see, this was the main course of the first dinner that I ever cooked for him. I believe I served it with a high-brow side of canned ranch-style beans and Frozen Margarita Pie for dessert.
To this day, my hubby will tell you that when I cooked that first meal for him, he just knew he had to marry me. So it goes without saying that this has been a regular recipe in our dinner rotation for all of our years of wedded bliss!
NO Canned Soups!
Now y'all know that I like to put my own spin on recipes by replacing canned/packaged ingredients with fresh wherever possible. That wasn't always the case, mind you. I've been making this recipe for years using the standard can of Cream of Chicken soup plus can of Cream of Mushroom soup. And let me tell you...using those cans, it has always turned out dee-li-cious.
But several years ago, I stopped buying condensed 'Cream of X' soups in favor of making my own simple sauces, from béchamel to cheese sauce. I love from-scratch sauces like these because they're quick to whip up, don't include any weird ingredients or icky preservatives, and allow me to control the sodium and seasonings. So it only made sense to replace the canned soups in traditional King Ranch Chicken with an easy homemade sauce!
King Ranch Chicken Ingredients
So what else goes into King Ranch Chicken Casserole, aside from the aforementioned from-scratch sauce?
- Chicken. King Ranch Chicken starts with (surprise!!!) chicken, which you may cook in the oven, the slow cooker, in some simmering water on the stove. Or you can take the shortcut of using a trusty rotisserie chicken...it's up to you! For the casserole pictured here, I tossed some frozen chicken breasts in the crock pot, seasoned them well, and let them do their thing until they were tender to the point of falling apart.
- Homemade sauce. Back to that easy, homemade sauce. It calls for butter, garlic, flour, milk, chicken broth, and spices. After just a few minutes, these ingredients transform into a thick and creamy sauce that puts canned soup to shame. And I promise that it's so easy! So step away from the can opener, friends... 😉
- Corn tortillas. You'll want to quarter your tortillas. And yes, I do recommend corn tortillas over flour tortillas. As in most enchilada recipes, flour tortillas would get rather gummy in a soupy casserole like this.
- Grated cheese. Cheddar, Colby Jack, or a Mexican blend all work beautifully, depending on your preference. You could also opt to use Monterey Jack or, for extra kick, pepper jack.
- Rotel. AKA, diced tomatoes and green chiles. You can also add a diced jalapeño, if you're a fan of a little heat. I've been known to use fresh tomatoes when they're in season, but Rotel is more readily available year-round, so I suppose I need to take back what I said earlier. Feel free to get the can opener back out!
How to Make King Ranch Chicken Casserole
It's a super easy recipe! Here's the scoop:
- Cook and shred the chicken.
- Whisk together the sauce.
- Spread half of the shredded chicken in the bottom of the dish. Layer with half of the sauce, then half of the corn tortillas, and then sprinkle with half of the shredded cheddar.
- Repeat the layers one more time.
- Top the whole caboodle with Rotel.
- Pop your baking dish in the oven and bake until hot and bubbly!
And that's it! The tortillas will soften into the sauce, causing the scrumptious layers to practically meld together. You can garnish with fresh cilantro, sour cream, salsa, and/or diced avocado if you like. Or you can just enjoy the steamy simplicity of chicken, tortillas, and cheese without any adornments.
Any way you slice it, I'm telling you...this is ultimate. Comfort. Food. Adults love it. Kids love it. Even persnickety toddlers can't wait to get their little mitts on it...
So thank you to my college roomie's mom for introducing me to this recipe.
Thank you to my significant other for liking it enough to marry me.
And thank YOU for bringing joy to your family by adding these ingredients to your grocery list and making it for dinner this week! I promise...King Ranch Chicken Casserole will be an instant keeper in your recipe file.
One last warning, though. If you happen to be single, be sure to wield the power of this casserole with great care. After all, this is a recipe that's entirely capable of eliciting you a marriage proposal somewhere down the road. 🙂
More Comfort Food Classics
- The BEST Homemade Chicken Pot Pie
- 30-Minute Skillet Lasagna
- Cordon Bleu Casserole
- PERFECT Chicken & Dumplings
King Ranch Chicken Casserole
- 4 cups cooked shredded chicken
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups chicken broth OR stock, divided
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- Salt & freshly ground pepper
- 12 corn tortillas, quartered
- 8 ounces (2 cups) grated cheddar OR Colby Jack cheese
- 1 (10-ounce) can Rotel (diced tomatoes & green chiles), drained
- 1 jalapeño, seeds & membranes removed and finely diced (optional)
- Adjust rack to center position of oven. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
- Make the white sauce by melting butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic to the pot and saute until fragrant and light golden brown, about 1 minute. Stir in the flour and whisk continuously for 1 minute. Slowly and gradually whisk in milk and 1 cup chicken stock. Increase heat to medium and stir continuously for several minutes until sauce is smooth and thickened. Remove pot from the heat and stir in cumin, garlic powder, and chili powder. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
- Evenly scatter half of the shredded chicken in the bottom of the baking dish. Dollop half of the sauce on top of the chicken and use the back of a spoon to spread it in an even layer. Arrange half of the corn tortilla quarters on top, overlapping slightly and tearing in half to fill in any gaps, if necessary. Sprinkle half of the grated cheese on top. Drizzle the entire surface with ½ cup of the remaining chicken broth, including corners and edges. Repeat layers of chicken, sauce, tortillas, cheese, and final ½ cup broth. Evenly sprinkle Rotel and diced jalapeños (if using) over top of the casserole.
- Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.
- You may use leftover chicken or cook it fresh by poaching, baking, grilling, cooking in the slow cooker, etc. I typically cook 4 (medium-sized) frozen chicken breasts for this recipe. Alternatively, a rotisserie chicken torn into chunks yields about 4 cups.
- If you can't find Rotel, you may use a regular can of diced tomatoes plus a small (4-ounce) can of diced green chiles in its place. Or you can use an equivalent amount of fresh diced tomatoes and green chiles.
Post originally published on September 28, 2014.