This King Ranch Casserole from Scratch takes an old classic and eliminates the canned soups. Much as I loved the original version, reducing the sodium load, and nixing the processed soup made this Tex-Mex casserole even better!
King Ranch Casserole from Scratch
For years, I would make the version of King Ranch Casserole with cream of chicken soup and cream of mushroom soup. It was spicy, creamy and comforting. I do love salty foods, and those canned soups are always loaded with sodium, but they don’t love me, making my fingers and eyes puffy. I figured that was a cue to scale back.
I know I could have made a bechamel sauce and created my own version, but when I saw a tried and true recipe for this classic Tex-Mex casserole referenced in a blog post, I took it as a sign to add it to our menu.
What is King Ranch Casserole?
King Ranch Chicken is a Tex-Mex Casserole named after the famous King Ranch, the largest ranch in Texas. There is no obvious connection, though, between this dish and the ranch, but variations of this casserole are found throughout Texas in community cookbooks.
My mom shared her recipe with me decades ago, and it was made with tortillas, a bell pepper, an onion, diced chicken, Rotel tomatoes, canned soups and cheese. To replace the canned soup, cooked up a thick sauce to mimic the soup’s consistency, plus I added some garlic and spices to amp up the flavor!
Tips for Making this from Scratch King Ranch Casserole
I took a nibble of this Tex-Mex casserole before dinner for quality control, of course. I was hoping the picky hubby would be able to handle the 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper as I thought this could easily be above his heat tolerance. I should be grateful that he has some nasty virus as he had no complaints. Well, except for all the coughing. Anyway, between the Rotel tomatoes, even though I purchased the mild version, green chiles and cayenne, there was a good, but not fiery, hit of spice!
- If you don’t like too much heat make sure to buy the mild Rotel tomatoes, not the hot.
- Adjust the cayenne pepper as needed. A sensitive palate may want less than the 1/4 teaspoon. You can shake things up by adding some chipotle powder for a little smokiness.
- The original recipe called for the meat off of one chicken. I took the easy route and used a rotisserie chicken from the market. You can poach or roast your own, then shred the meat after it’s cooled.
- I used Wondra flour to thicken the sauce. Wondra is a granulated flour that I use to make gravies as it doesn’t get lumpy like all purpose flour. Either is fine for this recipe, but if you have trouble getting a smooth gravy, you might want to give Wondra a try.
- I used flour tortillas instead of the corn tortillas called for in most King Ranch recipes. If you’d like to use corn tortilla instead, make sure to dip them in chicken broth, just to moisten. Then layer as directed in the recipe.
- If you’d like to brown the cheesy topping a bit, take the foil off the casserole for the last 15 minutes of cooking time. You may garnish with finely chopped parsley or cilantro if desired. This King Ranch Chicken from Scratch is worth going the extra mile!
King Ranch Casserole from Scratch
A homemade, no soup version of the classic King Ranch Chicken Casserole!
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
- Yield: 12 servings
- Category: Chicken, Casserole
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American, Tex-Mex
1/2 cup butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup all-purpose or Wondra flour
3 cups chicken stock (use 1/2 cup more if using corn tortillas instead of flour)
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounce can diced green chiles
1 ten-ounce can Ro-Tel tomatoes (I used mild)
10-12 flour tortillas (may substitute corn tortillas if desired. Dip them in chicken broth briefly to soften)
1 cooked chicken (poached or roasted), meat shredded
1+ cup shredded Jack cheese
1+ cup shredded cheddar
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic and sauté until soft, 5-10 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and stir until incorporated. Slowly whisk in 3 cups of the stock, about a cup at a time, until smooth. Whisk in cream and stir in chiles and tomatoes.
Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with butter. Pour a little of the sauce on the bottom of the casserole. Line the pan with half the tortillas, overlapping, cutting one or two in half or quarters to fill in the corners.
Cover the tortillas with half the sauce. Add half the chicken and sprinkle with half of the cheese. Add a second layer of tortillas, the remaining sauce and chicken, and the rest of the cheese.
Cover the casserole dish with non-stick foil (or spray regular foil with non-stick cooking spray). Bake for about 1 hour or until casserole is hot and cheese is melted. Uncover the dish for the last 15 minutes if you’d like to brown the cheese a bit.