As a food blogger, lover of food, and occasional food snob, it may be taboo to say this—but I love casseroles. They’re homey, they’re easy to prep, they taste good, and they make great leftovers. They can also be great in adapting recipes for people who can be lazy (definitely referring to myself here); for instance, I make stacked enchiladas/enchilada casserole waaaaay more frequently than traditional enchiladas because I just get annoyed with the filling and rolling.
King ranch casserole is sort of like an enchilada casserole, but the sauce is a little creamier than your standard enchilada sauce. The reason Lisa dubbed this casserole “fancy pants” is because the sauce doesn’t use any cream of ___ soups. And if you have butter, flour, and broth, that’s pretty much all you need to make your own cream of soups, anyway. This particular sauce is studded with red bell pepper, poblano, and green chiles that are in the canned tomatoes, so it’s moderately, but not terribly, spicy. It’s nice and creamy from the half and half and has just a little tang from the sour cream and lime juice. Basically, I could eat this sauce on top of pretty much anything and be pretty damn happy about it.
I decided to make two individual servings of these in my little cast iron skillets, because 1. I don’t use them enough and 2. They’re pretty much the perfect size for a tortilla. The rest got placed in a casserole dish and baked, and made faaaabulous leftovers. The kind of leftovers that you really want to eat for breakfast but are diligent and wait until lunch so you don’t get stuck buying lunch.
Fancy-Pants King Ranch Casserole
Adapted from The Homesick Texan Cookbook
For the chicken:
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lime, juiced
2 tsp. ancho chile powder
1 Tbsp. vegetable/canola oil
For the casserole:
4 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne
2 tsp. ancho chili powder
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup half and half
1 (10 oz.) can diced tomatoes with green chiles (Ro-Tel), drained
1/2 cup sour cream
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided, if desired
10-12 corn tortillas
1 Tbsp. canola oil or cooking spray
5 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
5 oz. pepper Jack cheese, shredded
To make the chicken: Rub the chicken with the lime juice, chili powder, and salt to taste. Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the chicken until done, about 8-12 minutes, depending on thickness of breasts. Allow to rest for a few minutes, and then cut into bite-sized pieces.
To make the casserole: Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a large baking dish.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, and poblano; cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, cayenne, ancho chili powder, and flour; cook 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture has thickened. Add in the half and half and canned tomatoes. Cover the pan, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the sour cream, lime juice, and 1/4 cup cilantro, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Combine the cheddar and pepper Jack cheese into a bowl.
Warm the tortillas by heating them directly over a gas flame, cooking them in a skillet with the hot canola oil, or stacking them on a baking sheet in piles of 2-3 with cooking spray between each one, until pliable.
Ladle 1/2 cup of the sauce onto the bottom of the baking dish. Layer half the tortillas (cut tortillas if necessary so that the surface is covered). Add half the chicken, half the remaining sauce, the remaining 1/4 cup cilantro (if using), and half of the shredded cheese (about 1.25 cups). Repeat the layering, ending with a layer of cheese. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until browned and bubbling.
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