King Ranch Casserole is a classic Texas dish made with layers of chicken, peppers, and cheese. As with many regional dishes, there is great debate over exactly what makes the quintessential version of this recipe: some call for corn tortillas, others call for flour tortillas, and others have no tortillas at all. I opted to leave the tortillas out and serve the casserole alongside warmed tortillas. This recipe is featured in my All Around the USA unit study.
King Ranch Casserole
For the cooked chicken:
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 carrot, peeled and chopped roughly
1 celery stalk, chopped roughly
1 white onion, in large chunks
5 cups cooked chicken (from the 6 chicken thighs), chopped
1/3 cup chicken broth, preferably homemade
26 ounces of diced tomatoes, drained
3/4 tsp finely ground Celtic sea salt (I use unsalted tomatoes and broth; use less salt if your canned tomatoes or chicken broth are salted)
1/4 tsp pepper
6 Tb butter
2 large yellow or white onions, chopped
3/4 tsp Celtic sea salt
1 large yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 tsp chili powder
6 Tb white rice flour
1&1/2 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 tsp Celtic sea salt (or less if your broth is salted)
1/4 tsp pepper
8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded
10 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
Warmed tortillas, for serving
Sour cream, for serving
Cook the chicken:
Place the carrot, celery, and onion in a 4-qt pot. Add the chicken thighs, cover with filtered water, and add a generous pinch of salt.
Bring the pot of chicken to a low simmer. Cover the pot and allow the chicken to gently simmer for 40 minutes.
Use tongs to remove the chicken from the pot and allow to cool until it can be handled easily. (The super-delicious broth leftover from cooking the chicken can be used for some other meal later on. It makes fantastic nutrient-dense white rice.)
Once the chicken is cool enough, remove and discard the chicken skin. (Or feed it to the dog!) Remove the chicken meat from the bones, being careful to avoid any cartilage or other chewy bits. The bones can be saved for making chicken bone broth.
Chop the chicken into small pieces.
The chicken can be prepared earlier in the day or even a day in advance of the meal.
To make the casserole:
Combine all of the ingredients for the chicken mixture in a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
In a very large, heavy-bottomed skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the onion and 3/4 tsp salt. Sauté for 10 minutes.
Add the chopped bell peppers to the skillet. Sauté for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, whisk together the ingredients for the creamy gravy in a medium bowl.
Shred the cheese using a box grater.
Add the garlic to the skillet and sauté for about a minute, just until the garlic is fragrant.
Sprinkle the rice flour and chili powder over the vegetables and stir to combine.
Pour the gravy mixture over the vegetables in the skillet. Stir it all together. Simmer for a few minutes until the liquid thickens up. Turn off heat.
In a 9X13 glass baking dish, spread half of the chicken mixture evenly over the bottom of the dish. Top the chicken with half of the vegetable mixture, then sprinkle half of the shredded cheese on top of the vegetable mixture. Make one more chicken layer, one more vegetable layer, and top it all with the remaining cheese.
Bake the casserole in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes, until everything is hot and bubbling. If desired, the broiler can be turned on for the last 3-5 minutes to brown the cheese, but watch it carefully as it can burn easily with the broiler on!
Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Serve alongside tortillas, and top with sour cream if desired.
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