How you doin’? Every time I think of King Ranch Chicken (KRC), it reminds me of an old TV series, Sky King. That series sparked my fascination with planes, leading to my learning to fly. I would dream of having my own Twin King Air, flying through the clouds to my ranch in Texas, Oklahoma or Montana. It was a child’s wonderful dream and it came true!... not with a King Air but an Aero Commander years later. The fact is I never felt freer than when I was piloting my own plane up in the wild blue yonder. Cute story. Of course, King Ranch Chicken has nothing to do the with Sky King. It’s just one of those associations in my mind.
KRC is a classic American casserole that many remember as one of the best meals from their childhood. It’s chicken and peppers layered with tortillas and cheese—lots of cheese. Although the exact origin of King Ranch Chicken is somewhat of a mystery, one thing is certain, whoever created this American classic had a pretty good idea of what they were doing. It is made with readily available ingredients and is a fantastic way to use leftover chicken. It consists of layers of smoked, grilled or roasted chicken, roasted or grilled peppers, and toasted corn tortillas, all smothered in cheese and sour cream, then baked until bubbly and golden brown.
It’s an easy, make-ahead, take-it-anywhere type of casserole. Some people use a concentrated canned soup as a base in their recipe, which very well may be the original—I don’t. My King Ranch Chicken is from scratch and is much healthier and fresher tasting. It takes me only 35 minutes for all the cutting and sautéing, 10 minutes for assembly and about 30 to 35 minutes in the oven (while I enjoy a couple of fingers of Bourbon and Branch—that’s a cocktail in “western speak”). A little effort, but worth it. It’s the type of meal that your stomach tells you to stop eating, while your brain keeps telling you to go back for seconds.
Prep time: 35 minutes
Assembly time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 30 to 35 minutes
Yield: Serves 8 to 12
A couple of spritzes of Pam non-stick cooking spray
6 tablespoons unsalted butter or vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups chopped red or yellow onions
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped poblano pepper (about 2 medium peppers)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, seamed and chopped
3 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups chicken stock
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained (Ro-tel is great)
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, plus more for garnish
1-1/2 cups sour cream
5 cups cooked chicken meat, coarsely chopped or shredded
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
18 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1/4 cup vegetable oil, for grilling the tortillas
ChefSecret: One of the best things about casseroles (aside from their yummy taste) is that you can just slide the baking dish into the oven and forget about it while it cooks—no tending required. The preparation must be done before you get to that point of just effortlessly sliding it into the oven, and my King Ranch Chicken recipe is no exception.
Covid-19 Quip of the Day: “Half of us going to come out of this pandemic as amazing cooks. The other half will come out overweight with drinking problem.”
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