Friday, December 2, 2011

Tex-Mex Fun ala King Ranch Casserole

I've never been there, but I know that the King Ranch in southern Texas is one of the largest ranches in the world. I also don't know the connection between this famous casserole and its origination on the ranch, but I'm guessing that it has been interpreted lots of different ways over the years. When I was putting it together, Ralph referred to it as a kind of "Tex-Mex lasagna." And, depending on what you want to throw into the mix, you can make it a little more "Tex" or a little more "Mex."

This is a great way to use left over chicken (or turkey) and you could also shortcut with a store-bought rotisserie chicken. You need a couple cups of chicken (more if you like it extra meaty) and can always just quickly poach some chicken pieces, like I did. One thing about poaching, it leaves you with some nice broth that you can incorporate into the casserole (I add a couple of bouillon cubes to the pot). The recipe also calls for tortillas (flour or corn - I prefer corn but either works well). If the tortillas are a little on the hard side or dried out, giving them a quick bath in the leftover chicken broth is a great way to soften them up and add a little flavor, too.

King Ranch Casserole is a versatile dish, which I love. It means you can be creative, use what you have on hand, and customize it to your own tastes. If you like a little more heat, add jalapenos or other peppers, throw in some olives, you could switch the chicken out with some cooked chorizo sausage, top with chopped onion, cilantro, sour cream, avocado - use your imagination and your favorite flavors!

King Ranch Casserole

2 - 2 1/2 cups cooked chicken (use more if you like)
2 chicken bouillon cubes (if you're poaching chicken in water)
1 large onion - white or yellow - diced
1 large green pepper - diced
2 or 3 cloves of garlic - minced
2 TBSP vegetable oil
salt and pepper
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 large (28oz) can pinto beans - drained and rinsed (this is optional)
1 can RoTel Tomatoes with chilies
12 six inch tortillas (flour or corn) - cut up into one inch strips
3 cups shredded cheese (can use a Mexican blend, colby jack, muenster)
1 cup of chicken broth (left over from poaching of the chicken - you DON'T have to add this if you like a
1 heaping TBSP chili powder
1 heaping tsp ground cumin
black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove chicken from bone and shred with fork. If poaching chicken, put raw chicken in pot and cover with water. Add bouillon cubes. Bring water to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about 25 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from liquid and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Proceed to remove meat from bones (discard skin). Put chicken in a large bowl.

In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil and add onion, green pepper and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and saute until veggies get tender (onions should be translucent). Add cooked vegetables to chicken in large bowl. Add can of RoTel tomatoes and contents of cans of cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups. You can use a half cup of broth from poaching the chicken to "clean out" the insides of the soup cans. NOTE: This makes for a more moist casserole - if you like a dryer casserole skip this step. Add chili powder, cumin and black pepper and combine all ingredients well in the large bowl.

Cut tortillas into strips. If they are a little dry, you way want to give them a quick soak in the chicken broth from poaching (if you have it). This will soften them nicely. Use a 9 x13 baking dish that is coated with a non-stick cooking spray. Put half the tortilla strips down on the bottom of the baking dish. Put half of your chicken/soup/veggie mixture over the tortillas. Add half of your beans (if using) and then half of your cheese. Repeat this process starting with the other half of the tortillas for a second layer.

Put casserole in oven uncovered for 25-30 minutes, or until it's nice and bubbly. Let casserole rest for a few minutes to settle. Using a spatula, serve up a nice big piece on a plate and top with sour cream, chopped onion, cilantro, avocado, salsa or anything else you like! Enjoy!

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