Why the King Ranch?
While the history of the King Ranch Casserole has been lost to time (like so many iconic dishes), the most likely reference comes from the King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas. This ranch was the largest of its kind for years (roughly 1 million acres at one point) and making a dish that could feed all those ranch hands would take something quick and easy to prepare, and economical enough to make a ton of it. Thus the King Ranch Casserole was born.
This is really a Tex-Mex dish that is delicious when served with a light green salad or guacamole salad on the side. Leftovers can be turned into chicken enchilada soup or thinned out with sour cream to make a delicious hot dip for fried corn tortillas.
An Adaptable Dish
Traditionally this recipe calls for a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes which contains diced tomatoes and green chilies, but this recipe is very adaptable. You can add fresh diced tomato and Hatch chilies, which are packaged in mild, medium or hot, and found in the frozen section of many grocery stores. Alternatively, add whatever fresh hot chilies you have available in your area-serrano, jalapeno, Anaheim or poblano all work well.
If using fresh chilies they will need to be charred, peeled and seeded before use. See how on Fresh Corn, Zucchini & Hatch Chile Casserole blog post. Still another alternative is to use your favorite jar of salsa. The idea is to add diced tomato and chilies.
Here is the ongoing debate over using corn or flour tortillas. Both are delicious and both work. I prefer corn tortillas since they add another flavor to the dish. Fresh or fried tortillas can be used since this an extremely versatile recipe. Whatever you have on hand will work. If I had to break the tie, I would advise fresh corn tortillas (white, yellow, red or blue).
Drink Pairings: Cold Dos Equis Amber, any Pilsner, Shiner Bock, Iced tea is great as well
King Ranch Casserole
- casserole dish
- chef knife
- cutting board
- rubber spatula or large kitchen spoon
- can opener
- mixing bowl
- 1½ lb chicken, cooked boneless/skinless diced white, dark or combination of both
- 1 whole onion (white or yellow), peeled, cored and diced
- 2 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)
- 1 10oz can RoTel tomato and chilies with juice (substitute with 2 diced tomato and chilies or jarred salsa)
- 1 10.5oz can cream of mushroom soup
- 1 10.5oz can cream of chicken soup
- 1½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated split into 2 portions
- ½ cup sour cream or Mexican crema (Plus more for serving on the side)
- 2 cups corn tortilla, fresh cut into strips or leftover fried corn tortilla chips (Flour tortillas work as well)
- Cook chicken breast, thighs or a boneless/skinless combination with salt and pepper. Chop the chicken into medium sized chunks.
- Prepare casserole dish with non stick cooking oil.
- Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C
- Peel and core an onion and cut into small dice. Reserve.
- Clean and rough chop the cilantro. Reserve.
If using canned tomatoes and chilies skip the next two steps (You can also use jarred salsa or pico de gallo).
- Prep the chilies. If using the fresh option, preferably roast, skin and seed them. Chop into a small dice. Reserve.
- Prep the tomato if using the fresh option, slice and dice. Reserve.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the onion, cilantro (optional), RoTel Tomato/Salsa, ½ of sharp cheddar cheese (about ¾ cup), Cream of Mushroom Soup, Cream of Chicken and Sour Cream. With a large spatula or spoon, mix the ingredients thoroughly.
- Cut cooked chicken into bite sized cubes and add to the King Ranch mix. Mix thoroughly.
- If using fresh tortillas, cut into thin strips or squares. If using fried tortilla chips, crush them slightly and add to the King Ranch Chicken mix. Mix thoroughly.
- Using a pre-oiled casserole dish, add the King Ranch Chicken mix. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the oven at 350°F/175°C for 40 minutes.
- Remove the casserole from the oven. It should be bubbling away or have an internal temperature of 155°F/68°C. Remove the aluminum foil and add the second half of the sharp cheddar cheese. Return the casserole to the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.
- Remove the casserole from the oven and allow to rest for 8 minutes before serving.