King Ranch Chicken

This flavorful dish has many variations. Our recipe includes its own well-seasoned sauce, omitting the canned soup commonly found in King Ranch Chicken recipes. No Cheez Whiz or Doritos either! Yes, it's a little more trouble, but the resulting dish is worth the effort. This casserole freezes well, and will be a big favorite at your table.

This recipe is from Eleanor Bradshaw's menu of company chicken recipes.

  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder (preferably Gebhardt's or homemade)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1 10-ounce can Ro-Tel tomatoes with chiles, drained
  • Canola oil for softening tortillas
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 4 cups cooked, diced or shredded chicken (mixture of light and dark meat preferred; use poached skinless, boneless breasts and thighs or roasted deli chicken)
  • 1/3 cup sliced green olives (with or without pimientos)
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions, including tops
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish
Preparation: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish or 3-quart casserole.

Make the Sauce:

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and chili powder, and sauté for a few minutes. Raise the heat to medium. Quickly sprinkle in the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to mix. Pour in a small amount of the chicken broth, stirring constantly to remove lumps, and allow the flour to "cook" briefly.

Gradually add the remaining chicken broth and the buttermilk and continue stirring until sauce has thickened, 7 or 8 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside. Sauce may be prepared in advance and refrigerated.

Make the Filling:

Warm a heavy skillet over medium heat, add the butter or olive oil, and sauté the chopped onion, poblano, mushrooms and tomatoes until onion is transparent, about 4 or 5 minutes. Fold into the mixture the diced chicken, olives and green onions, combining well. Remove from heat.

Assembling the Dish:

In a small skillet, heat about 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. Cover the bottom of your baking dish with 6 of the softened tortillas, overlapping as necessary. Layer the remaining ingredients in the following order:
  • Half of the chicken/vegetable mixture
  • One-third of the grated cheese
  • Half of the sauce
  • The remaining 6 softened tortillas
  • The remaining chicken/vegetable mixture
  • One-third of the grated cheese
  • The remaining sauce
  • The remaining cheese
Bake for 40 minutes at 350°F until casserole is heated through and bubbly.

Makes about 8 servings.

Note: As I have gotten older, I have spiced up this recipe by adding poblano chile, plus substituting the can of Ro-Tel mild tomatoes with something stronger. This has created a much more interesting casserole! If it is absolutely impossible to find poblano chiles, you may substitute a small can of green chiles for the poblano. However, using a fresh poblano is greatly preferred.

Ready in: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Kitchen tools you'll need for King Ranch Chicken:
9x13 Baking Dish, Graters, Mixing Bowls, Oval Platters, Skillets, Tongs

Where to Buy Chili Powder

Recipe editor Patricia Mitchell