I started out my cooking career (hah) by making soups, stews and casseroles. There’s nothing wrong with the simple, and casseroles are very simple. They’re also comfort food, in part because they are simple, and if you’re not feeding a huge crowd, then the leftovers are fantastic, especially if you work and need a quick meal that’s better for you than the anti-trans McDonald’s.
King Ranch Chicken is one of the easiest casseroles, IMO, to make. The ingredients are few but make a huge splash of flavor on your tongue and will stick with you for a while so you don’t walk away from the table hungry.
2-5 Chicken breasts (depending on how small they are and how much chicken you want in there)
1-2 Cans of cream of mushroom soup
1-2 Cans of cream of celery soup
1/4 – 1/2 cup milk
A package of corn tortillas (you’ll use approx. 16 depending on how deep your casserole dish is, how big of a casserole you’re making and how many layers you want in there)
2-3 Jalapeños (depending on how spicy you want it)
A large block of mild cheddar cheese, grated. Keep this in the fridge until you’re ready to begin constructing your casserole.
The first thing you want to do is cut off every bit of fat from your chicken breasts as possible. This makes sure that you have no nasty surprises to bite into once you’re finally enjoying your meal.
Next you boil the chicken. My recommendation is that you boil the chicken until it’s just barely done. The chicken will be going into the soup mixture then into the oven once the casserole is put together, so it’ll finish cooking, and this way, it won’t dry out. There’s nothing worse than dry chicken (well, there is, but I’m trying to coax people to want to eat, not lose their lunches).
Once the chicken is finished, pull it out of the pot and wash it out. Because I’m fairly OCD about clean up, I re-use that pot to cook the rest of the ingredients (which you’ll add the chicken back into), and this way, you’re not making a huge mess of your kitchen. And as a side note, as I finish with bowls and dishes that I use to cook with, I wash them so that I don’t have a huge sinkful of dishes to clean up when it’s all done.
Now, while the chicken is cooling down some so that it’s easier to cut up, start with the filling for the casserole. You’ll need to open your soups and empty them into the pot. Stir them together, add the milk. This is also where you add black pepper (if you like) to taste. I always add black pepper. While that’s heating up on a low heat, go back to your cutting board and chop up your tomatoes, jalapeños and chicken.
Make sure you’ve grated your cheese ahead of time and put it in the fridge to stay cold until you need it.
Put the tomatoes, jalapeños and chicken into the soup and stir, letting it heat up while you set up your casserole pan. Spray Pam in the pan, and I even add a little of the liquid part of the mixture into the bottom to prevent the corn tortillas from sticking. This makes clean up so much easier.
Now you’re ready to begin your layers. You start with your corn tortillas first, covering the bottom of the pan. Next add a layer of the soup-chicken mix until the tortillas are liberally covered. After this, add a layer of the grated cheese. Repeat the layers in order. Depending on how deep your dish is, you’ll probably get two or three layers, and at the very last, you completely coat the top with the rest of your grated cheese. This should be a fairly thick layer to keep all the cheese from sinking into the sauce.
Now you’ve let the oven heat up to 425°, right? Right. I recommend that you place the casserole pan onto a cookie sheet just in case some of your soup mixture bubbles up and over. This prevents you having to clean out your oven anytime soon. Once the oven is heated to the right temperature, put the casserole in and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and has a few crispy-bubbly spots because that just adds to the Yum Factor.
Rice is rice. I only use jasmine rice myself because of the flavor and fragrance, but Basmati is just as good. Or if you’re looking at cost, plain long grain white is really good and cheap. Follow the instructions on cooking the rice, only I tend to use less water so that it’s drier instead of wet.
Once the casserole is finished, take it out of the oven and let it sit for at least five minutes so that you don’t burn your mouth. Serve with rice. I also recommend salad as a veggie.
Enjoy this comfort food!