King Ranch chicken casserole is the perfect solution to big hunger and busy weeknights!
They say this chicken casserole is a Texas potluck staple. From that, you can tell this casserole is a.) massive and b.) delicious.
With a whopping total of 11 layers, this casserole can definitely feed a hungry crowd.
It has everything you’re looking for in comfort food, as well. Chicken, cheese, cream, the works!
It’s also easy to make, especially with lots of shortcut ingredients such as store-bought chicken, canned soup, and tomatoes.
If you’re looking for a shoulder to cry on, this dish is where you’ll find it!
What Is King Ranch Chicken Casserole?
King Ranch casserole is a creamy and cheesy casserole with layers of white sauce, shredded chicken, corn tortillas, and lots and lots of melty cheese.
It’s named after King Ranch, which is one of the largest ranches in the US.
Funnily enough, none of the elements in the casserole has anything to do with the ranch. In fact, the ranch doesn’t even raise chicken!
- Chicken – You can cook the chicken however you like it – boiled, roasted, slow-cooked, grilled, you name it. Or, you can also make life a breeze by getting rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Debone the chicken and chop or shred it to pieces.
- White Onion and Red and Green Bell Peppers – For a bit of heat and crunch. You can use poblanos instead of bell peppers if you like.
- Condensed Soup – mushroom and chicken
- Canned Tomatoes and Green Chiles – AKA Ro-Tel. You can also use fresh tomatoes and green chiles if you’re willing to make the extra effort.
- Chicken Broth – This is to saturate the condensed soups and give your sauce a smooth consistency. Use low-sodium broth if you want to reduce the amount of sodium in the casserole.
- Sour Cream – For an added layer of richness and creaminess.
- Spices and Seasonings – This isn’t set in stone, so feel free to use your own personal blend. If you don’t have one, though, I highly recommend a mix of ground cumin, ancho chile powder, dried oregano, and chipotle chile powder.
- Cheese – Grated cheddar, Colby jack, Mexican blend, or any cheese variety that melts well.
- Corn Tortillas – Cut them up in quarters (4 wedges) to make them easy to layer and fit into the pan.
How to Make King Ranch Chicken Casserole
Step 1: Saute the onion and bell peppers. Normally, this’ll take 5-7 minutes. But in this case, you only want to par-cook the vegetables. They’ll continue to soften as they bake, so you don’t want to overcook them.
Step 2: Make the sauce: Combine the sauteed vegetables, condensed soups, canned tomatoes and chiles, chicken broth, sour cream, and spices.
Taste and season accordingly.
Step 3: Assemble the casserole. This recipe needs 4 layers of sauce, 2 layers of chicken, 3 layers of cheese, and 2 layers of tortillas, so divide them accordingly.
Here’s how the layers should go:
- Sauce, just a bit
Step 4: Bake the casserole for 40 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, increase the temperature to 450 and bake the casserole for about 2-3 more minutes, until it turns golden on top.
Tips for the Best Chicken Casserole
If you’re looking to make this over the holidays, you can totally repurpose that big bird and its fixins.
In fact, this is actually one of my go-to recipes with turkey broth and leftover meat!
Or, stick with the chicken and check out these tips and tricks.
- Corn tortillas trump flour tortillas. They might look similar, but the texture isn’t the same, especially when they bake. Flour tortillas will fall apart during baking and turn into a gloppy, cereal-like consistency.
- Don’t over-saute the onions and bell peppers. You won’t want them to soften too much to give a nice textural variety to the purely tender casserole.
- Pick any variety of canned tomatoes & green chiles. If you’re also serving this casserole to kids, consider using the mild kind.
- Any kind of condensed soup works. You can even use reduced-sodium condensed soups if you want to limit the amount of sodium that goes into the casserole.
- Choose any kind of melty cheese. Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Monterey Jack, Colby, Gouda, Swiss – whatever’s already in your fridge.
- Grate the cheese yourself. Pre-shredded cheese contains cellulose, an anti-caking agent that keeps the cheese from melting at its best.
- Go crazy with the spices and seasonings. Don’t feel like you’re tied to whatever’s written in the recipe. Consider any or all of these options:
- California or regular chili powder
- Smoked, sweet, or regular paprika
- Sprinkle crushed corn chips on top. Use your favorite kind! I personally prefer Tostitos.
And if you’re in need of some fun side dishes for chicken casserole, I’ve got you covered there too!
Storage and Make-Ahead Instructions
Allow any leftover chicken casserole to cool completely before you store it. Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
Reheat the slices in the microwave until warmed through.
King Ranch chicken casserole will keep well in the fridge for up to 6 months! I suggest you double the recipe, serve one casserole, and freeze the other for another day.
Be sure to assemble the layers in a freezer-safe container. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn.
Let the casserole thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat it in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese bubbles, about 20-25 minutes.
You can assemble the layers up to a day in advance. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake.
Take the casserole out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature for about 30 minutes. Bake as instructed.
You can also freeze the casserole prior to baking. Again, it will keep well for up to 6 months.
To bake frozen, uncooked casserole, cover it with foil and bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake it for 15 to 30 minutes more, or until the cheese bubbles.
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