King Ranch Chicken

King Ranch Chicken

King Ranch Chicken is a casserole named after the King Ranch in South Texas.  I don’t think the recipe originated at that famous cattle ranch, though.  It’s one of those regional recipes that has numerous variations.  Most  versions are made with canned cream-of-whatever soup.  I have never actually eaten (or made) King Ranch Chicken before, but I was curious as to why this dish endures in popularity (in Texas, at least).  What I have found out since making this King Chicken Ranch recipe I got from www.texascooking.com is that it is much like an enchilada casserole.  It’s familiar and comforting, but not too spicy.  This recipe is good. I followed it as written except  that I microwaved the tortillas to soften them instead of briefly frying them in oil and I added 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin to the sauce.   There are a few additional changes I would make if I make this casserole again.  First, I would use milk instead of buttermilk.  I didn’t enjoy the twang so much.  I would also use black olives instead of green or use less of the green.  I love green olives, but the flavor in this recipe was a little overpowering even for my tastes.  This casserole supposedly freezes well.

King Ranch Chicken

3 tablespoons butter
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chicken stock or broth
3/4 cup buttermilk
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium poblano, chopped
1 cup finely chopped mushrooms
2 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded & chopped (or 1/2 cup canned tomatoes, drained)
2 tablespoons chopped pimientos

8 corn tortillas
3 to 4 cups cooked, diced chicken
1/3 cup sliced green olives
1/3 cup green onions, including tops, chopped
2 cup grated Longhorn or mild cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish or 3-quart casserole.

Make the Sauce:
Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and chili powder, and sauté for a minute or two. Raise the heat to medium. Quickly sprinkle in the flour and stir to mix. Pour in a small amount of the chicken broth, stirring constantly to remove lumps and allowing the flour to “cook” briefly.

Gradually add the remaining chicken broth and the buttermilk and continue stirring until sauce has thickened, 3 or 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sauce may be prepared in advance and refrigerated.

Make the Filling:
Warm a heavy skillet over medium heat, add the butter or olive oil, and sauté the chopped onion, green pepper, poblano, mushrooms, tomatoes and pimientos until onion is transparent, about 4 or 5 minutes. Fold into the mixture the diced chicken, olives and green onions, combining well. Remove from heat.

Assembling the Dish:
In a small skillet, heat about about half an inch of canola oil. Using tongs, dip the tortillas in the hot oil one at a time, for just a few seconds, so that they are softened. Cover the bottom of your baking dish with 4 of the softened tortillas. Layer the remaining ingredients in the following order:
Half of the chicken/vegetable mixture
Half of the grated cheese
Half of the sauce
The remaining 4 softened tortillas
The remaining chicken/vegetable mixture
The remaining grated cheese
The remaining sauce

Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F until casserole is heated through and bubbly. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Possible substitutions: A small can of Ro-Tel© tomatoes and chiles for the tomatoes and poblano, OR a small can of green chiles for just the poblano.

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