Wednesday, September 21, 2011

King Ranch Chicken - Regular & Vegetarian Versions

Tex-Mex at its best…

Great holiday or potluck dish!
I had trouble finding this recipe in our cookbooks after the move. I've taken on the role of regular chef in our newly blended household and decided to make some things I like, since I have kitchen duty. One of the advantages of being the family cook is that you get to make things you like and if anybody complains, you can just whip off your apron and hand it to them. You'd be surprised how few takers you get. One of the disadvantages, of course, is you have to clean up afterward, but if you're a good enough cook, the womenfolk feel guilty and will clean up for you. Secretly, even women, who are completely fed up with cooking, feel proprietary about "their" kitchens and will never fully relinquish control to a mere man. I, apparently, have never fully mastered the art of proper dish cleaning and putting things away where they belong. The ladies throw me out of the kitchen in frustration ever once in a while, make a fabulous meal to show me who's boss and do a really thorough and proper cleanup.

Boy do I ever learn my lesson when they do that!

King Ranch Chicken is a fantastic chicken dish, not too spicy the way we make it, but with plenty of Tex-Mex flavor. It's named after the famous King Ranch in south Texas which takes up an entire county south of Corpus Christi and upon which the movie "Giant" was based.  My wife reconstructed this dish for me the other day from memory. Her version is wonderful and she walked me through the preparation. It was all kind of delicious.  Wish you could have been there. 

Since you weren’t, I’m going to tell you how it was made so you can make it yourself and give your family a real treat.  This is one of those dishes, guys, that you can make one of your specialties on nights you’ve got kitchen duty. Plenty of manly chopping and dicing to preserve your image and if you make it, your wife can’t skimp on the cheese.

Cutting board
Sharp knife
Large casserole dish or baking pan
Electric skillet

  • 4 large chicken breasts or 2 boxes of Morningstar Farms Vegetarian Chicken Patties or 2 cans of Loma Linda or Worthington brand vegetarian chicken
  • 2 cans mushroom soup
  • 1 can Rotel ™ tomatoes and green chilies (mild to hot – your choice)
  • 8 oz. Shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¼ block Velveeta ™ cheese, diced small
  • Small onion – chopped
  • Bell pepper – chopped
  • Small jar of jalapeno slices
  • 15 corn tortillas
  • Sour cream
  • Small can sliced black olives (optional)
  • Olive oil
  1. Boil or cook the chicken in the microwave, drain it and dice into small cubes. If making the vegetarian version, simply dice the vege-chicken pieces into small cubes.
  2. Sautee the chopped onion and bell pepper in a little oil in the electric skillet. I prefer olive oil because it’s a healthier fat, but any oil will do.  Dice up a few jalapeno slices and toss them into the oil.  I only put a palmful of small pieces into this recipe - enough to lightly flavor it without adding a lot of heat or a nasty surprise for those with tender tongues.
  3. When the onion, jalapeno and bell pepper are done, pour in the 2 cans of soup and the can of Rotel ™. Any tomatoes and green chilies will do. I like the mild Rotel for the sake of the children.  Otherwise this dish can get a bit fiery. 
  4. Stir in the chicken pieces and heat the mixture till it begins to bubble. Then turn off the skillet.
  5. Chop the tortillas into strips.
  6. Lay down a layer of tortilla strips in the bottom of the casserole dish.
  7. Spread a layer of diced Velveeta ™ evenly over the tortillas about an inch or two apart, then cover with a layer of soup/chicken/veggies mix – not too thick.  You can sprinkle on a layer of black olives if you want them at this point.
  8. Repeat one more time with tortillas, Velveeta, chicken mix and olives (optional).
  9. Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese over the top to give it a finished look and because I like a lot of cheese.  You can also add a few optional jalapenos and black olives to make it pretty. Spread out the jalapenos so the wimpy people with tender tongues can find them easily and pick them off.
  10. Cover the casserole dish and bake in the oven at 350 degrees till the cheese on top is thoroughly melted and the whole thing begins to bubble at the sides.  Turn off the oven and let it set there till you have the rest of the meal set out.
A couple of dollops of sour cream on this after you take it out makes a really tasty garnish with maybe a little sprinkling of cilantro.  This dish goes really well with a nice green salad, Ranch dressing and a few tortilla chip strips for garnish, iced tea and a big bowl of sweet corn.  You don’t need a bread with this because of the tortillas in the casserole.  This recipe serves about six people or four typical Texans. I like to bring out the Fiesta-ware to serve this meal on because anytime you make King Ranch casserole, it's a Fiesta!. If you don't have any Fiesta-ware, I highly recommend you scoot by Marshall Pottery in Marshall, Texas and get you some plates and saucers and stuff that are just like the original Fiesta-ware my grandmother used to serve us meals on when I was a kid. King Ranch casserole just screams for those colorful Fiesta-ware plates.

The other nice thing about this recipe is that it's easy to stretch - very forgiving of variations in ingredients. You can add more chicken and veggies, another can of soup or more cheese to stretch it out for a family gathering or potluck at church. You're really going to like this Texas treat.

Tom King - 2011

Here's my version!

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