Back in the day, I taught at a public school. While public school lunches are notorious for their nastiness (that pizza? those hamburgers? Neither live up to their names), there were two days I would always buy....enchilada day and King Ranch day. The enchiladas....oh my...greasy truck stop...two enchiladas loaded with extra jalapenos and a side of beans on top of my cornbread. (I don't even want to know the calorie count). The King Ranch Casserole was....ugh...too good for words.
These days, my kids' school still has enchilada day, and I try to go whenever they do (it's only once a month, usually a Thursday, unlike pizza which is almost every Monday). However, King Ranch Casserole has gone by the wayside....one to be remembered, "back in the good old days" (unlike the stewed tomatoes and pimiento cheese sandwich not good days).
Last week, I remembered King Ranch Casserole. I googled it and was disappointed. Then, I remembered my favorite site for all recipes Texan: The Homesick Texan. Not only did the Homesick Texan rise the challenge, the recipe contained no directions that sounded like "open up a can of..." and had no corn!!
Mmm....bliss in my oven in the middle of August. My King Ranch craving was met and I knew I would at least post one more recipe to this blog before I took another 9 month break. M loved this. I made it a hair too spicy, so the boys didn't eat it quite as well. Next time, I'll dial down the spice a little...or maybe not, then I'd get more to myself.
This serves 8 - 10 (or 12. It makes an 11x7" pan).
King Ranch Chicken Casserole
adapted ever so slightly from the Homesick Texan, because the recipe was almost perfect
1 1/2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken (I used thighs. They're cheaper and more flavorful)
6 t lime jiuce
4 t chile powder (I like New Mexico blend--great flavor and not too spicy)
1/4 c olive oil
4 T butter
1/2 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 poblano (optional--may want to taste the poblano first to see how much of it you want to use), diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T flour
1 t cumin
1 c chicken broth
1/2 c half and half or heavy cream
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes (or a 10-oz can of Rotel or 2 c fresh tomatoes plus 1/4 c diced jalapeños)
1/3 c plain yogurt or sour cream
1/2 c cilantro, chopped
10 corn tortillas
3 c cheese, cheddar or a mix of pepper jack and cheddar
Season the chicken with 4 t lime juice, 2 t chile powder, and a dash of salt. In a skillet over medium heat, cook the chicken in the olive oil for 10 minutes per side or until cooked through. When chicken is cooked through, remove from heat and shred when it is just cool enough to handle. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Set aside (you should have about 3 c of chicken).
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and both peppers. Cook for 10 minutes or until onions have softened. Add the garlic, flour, cumin, and remaining 2 t of chile powder. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the chicken broth and cook until mixture has thickened. Stir in the half and half and tomatoes. Cover the pot and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes, stir in the sour cream, remaining 2 t lime juice, and 1/4 c cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
Soften the tortillas (either dry--over a comal or in a little oil in a black skillet). Ladle 1/2 c of the sauce into the bottom or a 11x7 pan (you can use and 9x13 pan, it will just not be as thick). Top with 5 tortillas, tearing tortillas as needed to be sure the entire pan is covered. Add half the chicken, followed by 1/2 the sauce, 1/2 the remaining cilantro, and 1 1/2 c grated cheese. Repeat the layers, ending with the cheese.
Cook uncovered in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Serve immediately, topping with sour cream, salsa, and more cilantro as desired.