King Ranch Chicken is a staple at Texas luncheons, funerals, bake sales, school suppers, etc. Of course, it’s conventionally made with a can of creamed mushroom soup and one of cream of chicken soup, but we don’t do that, do we?
Years ago, a friend named Nancy Beckham had a restaurant in Dallas, Texas called Brazos. She served Southwestern cuisine, Nancy-style, before she threw it all away and ran away to make a living singing in the Caribbean. This from-scratch recipe for King Ranch Chicken was on her Brazos menu. I changed it a bit—skipped the roux and the bell peppers, and subbed in roasted Hatch chilies. But this is basically it. It makes a ton, because if you’re not feeding a crowd, why make a casserole at all? Yes, it freezes.
And, in case you don’t know, the King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas is one of the largest and oldest ranches in the state, founded by Captain King in 1853 and covering 825,000 acres. It was the inspiration for Edna Ferber’s Giant, and the movie, in which James Dean as Jett Rink says, “Howdy ma’am” to Elizabeth Taylor.
3 lbs. cooked chicken
12 roasted Hatch chilies, peeled, seeded, stemmed and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
½ lb. butter
1 ½ cups flour
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups milk
2 cups sour cream
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs. grated cheese, cheddar and Monterey Jack, mixed
A big package (1 lb.) of corn tortillas, torn into quarters
Cook onion and garlic in oil until translucent. Stir in chilies and cook a minute. Set aside. Melt butter in large pan, stir in flour to make a roux, slowly add chicken stock and milk, and cook over low heat until thickened. Stir in sour cream.
Preheat oven to 375 and grease a big casserole. You might need two.
Spread a layer of sour cream sauce in the bottom of the casseroles. Cover with a layer of tortillas, then a layer of chicken, one of cheese, one of chilies and onions, then another one of tortillas. Repeat until casserole is full. Top with a layer of tortillas, then sauce and grated cheese. Cover with foil and bake until bubbly, about 40 minutes. Let stand a few minutes before cutting and serving.
Serves 10. Or so.
-Mary Brown Malouf