What am I doing over here cooking a casserole on one of the hottest days of the summer? Crazy, perhaps, but the stomach wants what the stomach wants, and mine wants King Ranch Chicken Casserole! This creamy cheesy chicken casserole recipe is pure comfort food heaven and I guess that’s just what I need after months of eating nothing but summery refrigerator salads. 😅
What is King Ranch Chicken Casserole?
King Ranch Chicken Casserole is a classic Texan casserole, with layers of chicken, cheese, tortillas, and a rich creamy gravy (read about the purported history of the casserole here). Like a lot of casseroles, King Ranch Casserole is usually made with canned condensed soups. But if you know me, you know that I can’t get down with that. So I made a from-scratch version of this classic recipe, with a quick and easy homemade creamy chicken gravy.
King Ranch Chicken Casserole, My Way
This is one of those recipes where there are as many versions as there are small towns in America. My interpretation of Kinch Ranch Chicken Casserole has a little less “sauce” and a little more texture. I did this by using crunchy tortilla chip strips (the thick rectangular chips) instead of raw corn tortillas, and used a little less of that creamy gravy than you might normally find in a King Ranch Casserole. It’s still creamy, cheesy, and good, just less gloopy.
No Cream of Chicken Soup, Please!
I’m just not a fan of using condensed soup in my recipes. I’d rather just mix up a quick roux in the skillet and thicken the recipe that way. It’s not complicated and there are no mystery ingredients that way. :) Make sure to scroll down to the step by step photos below the recipe to see how it’s done!
The Rotisserie Chicken Short Cut
If you want to make your King Ranch Chicken Casserole a little easier, you can skip cooking the raw chicken breasts below and use pulled meat from a rotisserie chicken. You’ll need 2-3 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken to replace the chicken breasts. You can start the recipe with the step where you add butter, onion, and bell pepper to the skillet, modifying by adding the 1 Tbsp chili powder to the vegetables instead of to the raw chicken.
How Spicy is This King Ranch Chicken Casserole?
My casserole’s spice level was virtually non-detectable. The heat level will vary based on two ingredients: the chili powder and the diced tomatoes with green chiles (Rotel). Chili powder (which is a chili seasoning, not ground red chiles) can vary in heat from brand to brand and the one I have right now (a grocery store generic) has zero heat. The same is true for canned diced tomatoes with green chiles. Some brands are spicy, some are mild. Some label them as spicy or mild, some do not. So just be aware of these two ingredients if you’re trying to control the heat.
Love casseroles? Check out these other canned-soup-free casseroles: Creamiest Green Bean Casserole, Cheesy Chicken Vegetable and Rice Casserole, Wild Rice and Vegetable Casserole, and Cheesy Cottage Pie.
King Ranch Chicken Casserole
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast ($5.79)
- 1 Tbsp chili powder ($0.30)
- 1 Tbsp cooking oil ($0.04)
- 2 Tbsp butter ($0.26)
- 1 yellow onion ($0.21)
- 1 green bell pepper ($0.63)
- 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour ($0.02)
- 1 cup chicken broth ($0.13)
- 1 10oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles (Rotel) ($0.45)
- 1/2 cup sour cream ($0.22)
- 8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded ($1.69)
- 5 cups tortilla chip strips* ($1.00)
- 2 green onions ($0.23)
- Place the chicken breasts on a cutting board, cover with plastic wrap, and use a mallet or rolling pin to pound the chicken to an even thickness, about 3/4 to 1-inch thick. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with chili powder.
- Heat the cooking oil in a large skillet over medium. Once hot, swirl the oil to coat the surface of the skillet, then add the seasoned chicken breast. Cook the chicken until browned on each side and cooked through, about 5 minutes each side. Remove the chicken to a clean cutting board to cool.
- While the chicken is cooking, finely dice the onion and bell pepper, and shred the cheddar cheese. Begin to preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- After removing the chicken from the skillet, add the butter, onion, and bell pepper. Sauté the onion and bell pepper in the butter over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent.
- Add the flour to the skillet with the onion and bell pepper. Continue to sauté for about one minute more, or until the flour coats the bottom of the skillet and turns golden brown.
- Add the chicken broth to the skillet and stir to dissolve the flour and any browned bits of chicken from the bottom of the skillet. Allow the broth come up to a simmer, at which point it will thicken to a gravy. Remove the skillet from the heat.
- Drain the can of diced tomatoes with green chiles well. Dice the cooked chicken. Stir the chicken and tomatoes into the gravy.
- After stirring the chicken and tomatoes into the gravy, add the sour cream and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheddar, and stir until combined.
- Layer a few handfuls of the tortilla chip strips into the bottom of a 9x13-inch or 3 quart casserole dish. Spoon half of the chicken mixture on top of the chips. Layer more tortilla chip strips on top (about half as much as before), then spoon the remaining chicken mixture on top. Finally, add the remaining 1.5 cups of shredded cheddar.
- Bake the casserole in the preheated 375ºF oven for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the casserole bubbles around the edges. Sprinkle sliced green onions on top after baking, then serve hot.
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Scroll down for step by step photos!
How to Make King Ranch Chicken Casserole – Step by Step Photos
Begin by pounding two boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 lb. total) to an even thickness, about 3/4 to 1-inch thick. This will help it cook quickly and evenly without drying out. Season the chicken breasts on both sides with about 1 Tbsp chili powder.
Add 1 Tbsp cooking oil to a large skillet and preheat it over medium. Once hot, swirl to coat the skillet in oil, then add the chicken breasts. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and cooked through (about 5 minutes per side). While the chicken cooks, dice one yellow onion and one bell pepper. Shred 8 oz. cheddar cheese.
Remove the cooked chicken to a clean cutting board to cool. Begin to preheat the oven to 375ºF. Add the diced onion and bell pepper to the skillet along with 2 Tbsp butter. Sauté the onion and bell pepper in the butter over medium heat until the onion are soft and translucent (about 5 minutes).
Add 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour to the skillet and continue to stir and cook over medium heat, for about one minute more, or until the flour begins to coat the bottom of the skillet and turn golden brown (you’re essentially making a roux here with the leftover fat in the skillet and the flour).
Add 1 cup chicken broth to the skillet and stir to dissolve the flour and any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Allow the skillet to come up to a simmer, at which point the broth will thicken into a gravy. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Dice the cooked chicken and drain one 10 oz. can of diced tomatoes with green chiles. Add the chicken and tomatoes to the skillet and stir to combine.
Add 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheddar to the skillet and stir to combine.
Lay a few handfuls of tortilla chip strips in the bottom of a 9×13-inch or 3 quart casserole dish. Spoon 1/2 of the chicken mixture over the chips (it will not cover in a solid layer).
Add a couple more handfuls of chips on top (about half as many as before), then spoon the rest of the chicken mixture over top. Lastly, add the remaining 1.5 cups of shredded cheddar on top.
Bake the King Ranch Chicken Casserole in the preheated 375ºF oven for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the casserole is bubbling around the edges. Sprinkle sliced green onions on top after baking. Serve hot.
Cheeeeeeeeesy chicken and tortillas!