Friday, August 1, 2008

The Queen of Chicken Casseroles

I took a Tex-Mex turn today, stirring up my version of the King Ranch Casserole, a tasty dish popular with can opener cooks. I'm not a food snob, my kids love the blue box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (or is it Cheese and Macaroni? Not.) and there's always a couple cans of Campbell's in the pantry. I have, in fact, made the can opener version of King Ranch, which involves opening cans of Cream of Chicken soup, diced green chilies and Ro-tel and stirring them together with sour cream. This sauce is layered with cooked chicken and tortillas and topped with cheese before baking.

While reading through Art Smith's Kitchen Life, an excellent home cooking resource, I came upon his version called From-Scratch King Ranch casserole. OK, I love Art, but I find it difficult for a cook to call something "from scratch" when you open three cans and a jar (in this case, chicken broth, tomatoes, roasted red peppers and chopped green chilies). At least the recipe called for cooking chicken thighs in the broth and then creating a spicy veloute to layer with the chicken and tortillas.

My version used what I had on hand - leftover roasted chicken breast meat, fresh sweet peppers from this week's CSA bag, and leftover homemade vegetable broth. I clean forgot about using tomatoes, a key ingredient in typical versions, and the recipe did not suffer for it. In fact, my recipe is better without tomatoes and the mushrooms in Art's version. Here's how I made

Queen Ranch Casserole
9 corn tortillas
2 cups cooked chicken, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups broth, vegetable or chicken, or use water
2 roasted red bell peppers, freshly made or from a jar, chopped
1 small can diced green chilies
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon grill seasoning
2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend
1/2 cup sour cream, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350 and position a rack in the center. Lightly coat a 9 X 13 inch baking dish with the oil spray.

2. Arrange the tortillas directly on the oven racks. Bake until the tortillas are dry, about 6 minutes. Remove the tortillas from the oven and let cool.

3. In a bowl, combine cooked chicken, chopped bell pepper, and diced green chilies.

4. In skillet, melt butter and saute onion. Add chili powder and grill seasoning. Cook until onions are soft. Whisk in flour and stir until smooth. Slowly add milk and broth and season to taste.

5. In baking dish, place three tortillas, breaking into chips to create a complete layer. Add half of chicken mixture and then cover with a third of the sauce. Top with a third of the cheese. Repeat these layers. Add the final layer of tortillas, cover with remaining sauce and cheese. Bake in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes, until bubbly and golden and the cheese has melted. Serve individual portions topped with sour cream.

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