Located in south Texas, King Ranch is known as world’s largest ranch. They don’t claim to have come up with this recipe; since they are a cattle ranch, that is likely to be the case. However, even cowboys get tired of beef!
Recipes for King Ranch Chicken vary, but most include a sauce made of canned diced tomatoes, green chilis, cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, diced bell pepper, onion, and shredded chicken. The bottom of the casserole is made of corn tortillas or tortilla chips; layers of the sauce and cheese are then added.
Some stories say that one of the early ranch hands came up with the dish and fed hundreds of hungry ranch workers this hearty meal.
However, given that the King Ranch was established in 1853, if this ranch hand did in fact create the recipe he couldn’t have used canned cream soups from a factory. He would have used fresh ingredients that gave the chicken a lot of flavor (sucking up ranch dust does a number on a cowboy’s taste buds).
Another, possibly more accurate, theory attributes the dish’s popularity to post-World War II cooking, when housewives wanted to incorporate more canned soups into their cooking to spend less time in the kitchen.
Others say it may have been created by a woman in Texas as a cookbook entry for housewives looking for more convenient dinner options.
Or perhaps it was a cooking contest entry and the name King Ranch was just used to make the title catchy.
In any case, most concur that this recipe’s creation was coincident with the increased use of canned soup, which is a bit ironic considering our recipe requires home made sauce. However, it is absolutely worth the extra effort to create the sauce without the use of canned soup.
One time saving step is that this recipe doesn’t go as far as requiring you to make your own ground cornmeal for the tortillas or lard from the hog house to fry them in!
However you choose to make your King Ranch recipe, and whatever story you believe concerning its origin, one thing most can agree on it’s that it’s delicious. Fix this tasty casserole for your family for a meal that they are sure to love.
King Ranch Chicken
3 Tablespoons butter
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon fresh 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 olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium poblano pepper, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (or 1/2 cup canned tomatoes, drained)
1/4 cup diced green chiles
3 to 4 cups cooked, coarsely shredded chicken (white and dark meat)
1/3 cup green onions, including tops, chopped
canola oil for softening tortillas
8 corn tortillas
2 cup grated Longhorn or Monterey Jack cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish or 3-quart casserole dish.
2. Make the sauce by melting the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, cumin, and chili powder, and sauté for a minute or two.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Make the filling by warming a heavy skillet over medium heat, then adding the olive oil. Sauté the chopped onion, green pepper, poblano, chilis, and tomatoes until onion is transparent, about 4 or 5 minutes. Fold the shredded chicken and green onions into the mixture, combining well. Remove from heat.
6. In a small skillet, heat 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.
7. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with four 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
8. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F until casserole is heated through and bubbly. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Other Texan Dishes to Try
Texan cuisine is expansive, just like the state. There are so many wonderful dishes that have come out of the great state of Texas. After you've given this King Ranch casserole a try, give these other dishes your time:
- Barbecue brisket. What's more Texan than barbecue? If you haven't tried your hand at a proper Texan barbecue brisket, what are you waiting for? Bonus points if you have a smoker you can use.
- Steak. Steak is a huge part of Texan cuisine, due in large part to the proliferation of cattle ranches in the state. Making a great steak is a great way to pay homage to Texas.
- Smoked sausages. Another part of Texan cuisine is smoked sausages. Generally, this dish is prepared as part of a larger barbecue. Smoked sausages were popularized by immigrants in the late 19th century.
- Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex is a huge sub-genre of Texan cuisine. It involves many dishes that aren't seen in Mexican cuisine, such as combination plates of tacos and enchiladas served with rice. There are a number of options to choose from here, so your family will be fed for a long time!
- Beef tripe stew. Called menudo in Texas, this is a hearty, filling stew that has been a part of Texan food culture for many years. A part of the Mexican heritage that influences so much of the state, this is a dish you have to try.
- Chicken fried steak. What part of Texas chicken fried steak originated from is unknown, but it is believed to have originated in Lamesa, Texas. This delicious take on a beefsteak is a must-try; serve with gravy and mashed potatoes.
- Corndogs. The origin of corndogs is disputed, but a lot of people believe they originated at the Texas State Fair. Considering this state fair's love of fried foods, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise if this turned out to be true! This is an easy dish to make that kids will love. You can even make a breakfast version with pancakes and sausage.
- Peach cobbler. This cobbler flavor is the official cobbler of the state of Texas. If you're looking to have a dinner that's completely Texan, you have to finish it with a Texan dessert. Peach cobbler is perfect for summer; use fresh peaches to make it.