Feeding a crowd with King Ranch Chicken

Earlier this week, the Fort Davis Lions Club served a homemade lunch to the middle school and high school students through a weekly program called Tuesday School. There are no cafeterias at the schools in Fort Davis. Students pack a lunch, go off-campus to a local eatery, or go home for their lunch period.

Many of them gather under the big trees at the county courthouse at lunch time. Tuesday School offers a lunch for the students, provided by service-minded community members in the First United Methodist Church’s Fellowship Hall, and has for as long as adults who grew up in Fort Davis can remember. Pastor Bryan gives a short uplifting message to the kids while they eat. It’s really very, very wonderful to experience.

The Fort Davis Lions Club ordinarily provides lunch at Tuesday School this time, each year, in October, serving up a smaller-scale enchilada supper to the students. We were already on the calendar for this week, but our Enchilada Supper has been shifted to Nov. 18, so we were without leftover Enchilada Supper sauce and cheese and goodies.

When Lions Club President Debbie Murphy asked me what kinds of casserole I thought might be good for serving around 70 students, my mind went straight to King Ranch Chicken Casserole. Creamy, chicken-y and cheesy with just the right amount of spice, I figured King Ranch Chicken had all the elements most everyone loves, presented in a way people often forget about making. Sure, I make green chile chicken enchilada casserole often, but that’s totally different.

This dish is essentially a Mexican lasagna with corn tortillas rather than lasagna noodles, a Tex-Mex style casserole with chicken, cheese, corn tortillas and peppers. King Ranch Chicken is believed to date back to the 1940s, and nobody knows for sure the origin of the recipe, other than it’s about as Tex-Mex as a casserole gets. The original recipe used cream soups, while some modern versions use a flour-and-butter roux instead.

Since I am once again helping head up the Enchilada Supper, I figured tackling Tuesday School would be good practice, and much easier. Like the Enchilada Supper, it’s a well-oiled machine with everyone working together for the kids.

Note: We DID have our yellow Lions vests on during serving time, just not while we were getting set up. Here’s my favorite logo that describes our club perfectly.

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For our King Ranch Chicken, I found a recipe I liked that serves 8-10, and multiplied it by seven, anticipating around 70 mouths to feed. I prepped the veggies and chicken the night before.

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All of these were diced and sauteed, the night before, to save time.

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I boiled boneless chicken breasts and boneless thighs because I really like a combo of light and dark meat. While the recipe called for shredding the chicken using two forks, I used my fingers. As my foodie idol, Alton Brown, has said repeatedly (and of course I paraphrase), “I have two perfectly good shredders at the end of my arms.”

 

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Shredding eight pounds of chicken by hand took a long time. Do I look weary? I was. Saving homemade salsa, homemade Ranch dressing and shredding of five pounds of cheddar cheese (thank you, Mr. Cuisinart) for the morning…
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When I need fresh salsa in a hurry with minimal effort, I break out the blender. This is 2 cans of whole tomatoes with juice, a handful of cilantro (because I love cilantro), 5 cloves of garlic, 1 medium onion, a splash of agave nectar, a splash of apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper and a hefty shake of cumin. Chop in the blender, taste for salt, add more if needed.  I guess I should actually figure out some measurements for this, but I’ve been making it for 20 years and just do it.
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One whole blender made 10 cups of homemade salsa, in about 5 minutes, start to finish. I sent the remaining 4 cups’ worth in a clean jar, as a little gift to Pastor Bryan, who enjoyed it tremendously. 

It’s a new day! Refreshed and caffeinated, we assembled and baked the five enormous pans of creamy goodness in the church’s ovens, in the morning, before serving it. We opened can after can after can and mixed everything up before layering it with corn tortillas.

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My husband told me he’d take ONE picture of me doing some work. Of course, I almost blinked.
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Ready and waiting… don’t want to have them cooked too soon!

 

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I didn’t get a picture of the plate with chips, salsa and salad… but trust me, nary a scrap was uneaten 🙂

With chips and homemade salsa, a lettuce and tomato salad with homemade Ranch dressing, green beans and a bowl of sliced jalapenos, I’d say our Tuesday School was a hit. Many kids came back for seconds. We topped off the meal with an assortment of ice cream treats.

This recipe is great for using up leftover shredded chicken, but you can also cook a whole chicken, then shred it to use in this dish, or grab a ready-to-eat rotisserie chicken from the store. Use Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with green chiles if you want to stick closely to the original recipe. If you can’t get Ro-Tel, either use canned diced tomatoes and chopped fresh green chile peppers, or even just use your favorite tomato salsa.

If you don’t want the casserole spicy, leave the chiles out altogether, and serve salsa on the side for those who want to add some spice. This recipe makes enough for 8-10 people, but you might double or triple it to have on hand. Just freeze in batches, then thaw overnight and reheat in a 350-degree oven the following day for 40 minutes or until piping hot in the center.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole
(Serves 8-10, but if you want my recipe for 70 with leftovers, email me at johnskrysta@gmail.com and I’ll share it)
3-1/2 cups cooked chicken breast, shredded
2 tablespoons your favorite hot sauce (such as Cholula, Frank’s or Tabasco)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 (10-ounce) cans Ro-tel tomatoes with green chiles, undrained
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of chicken soup
12 corn tortillas
2-1/3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Top shredded chicken with hot sauce and toss to combine. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add green pepper and onion, sautéing till they start to get tender. Turn off heat and blend in salt and pepper, chicken, Ro-tel tomatoes with juice, and soups.

Grease a 9×13 baking pan and fill in this order:
4 corn tortillas, quartered
2 1/2 cups chicken mixture
2/3 cups cheese

Repeat everything except the cheese twice. Hold off adding the final layer of cheese (1 cup).

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until hot. Top with the reserved cheese and bake 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let sit about 5 minutes before serving.

3 thoughts on “Feeding a crowd with King Ranch Chicken

  1. How wonderful of the Lions Club to do such a charitable thing for the kids! That recipe is somewhat similar to the Green Enchilada casserole my mom makes. Although your version looks like its a lot easier to make. I mean other than shredding tons of chicken on your own that is! lol
    Now I’m torn between this and the chili recipe for Sunday dinner this weekend! 😉

    Like

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