King Ranch Chicken — Nothing says comfort food like an EASY casserole recipe with shredded chicken, cheese, salsa, sour cream, layered with tortillas, and seasoned to perfection! Use rotisserie chicken to save time making this a great family-friendly weeknight dinner recipe!
King Ranch Chicken Recipe
If I had to describe King Ranch Chicken Casserole in three words, it would be cheesy, creamy, and chicken-y.
There’s the perfect amount of chicken in each cheesy, creamy layer of this casserole to seriously fill you up and keep you coming back for more.
And this is an easy casserole recipe requiring only 15 minutes of prep time before you pop the casserole into the oven for a half hour and let it do all of the work for you.
The only hard part is smelling the enticing aromas filling your house while it bakes and waiting for it to be ready!
To save time and make this a do-able weeknight dinner recipe when time is of the essence (we all know how hectic weeknights can be), I use shredded rotisserie chicken.
Although if you happen to have extra grilled chicken or poached chicken on hand, they’ll work fine too. If you wind up with extra rotisserie chicken, I’ve got recipes to help you use up rotisserie chicken, too!
Why Is it Called “King Ranch” Chicken?
If you’re wondering why or how this easy chicken dinner recipe got its name, I did some digging. I found out that there’s a very large and famous ranch in Texas called King Ranch, which was founded and originally owned by Richard King in the 1800s.
However, many things regionally in Texas may be labeled King Ranch Something as a reference to the ranch. For example, a “King Ranch office chair” is piggybacking on this “infamous” name. King Ranch chicken casserole does the same.
I don’t think any King Ranch chicken casserole was every served at the ranch, but I am certainly not a Texas historian.
Ingredients in King Ranch Chicken Casserole
Let’s move on to making this fast and easy chicken casserole recipe. There’s no cream of mushroom soup! and no cream of chicken soup!
To do that, you’ll need the following common and easy-to-find fridge and pantry ingredients including the following:
- Unsalted butter
- Poblano pepper
- Red bell pepper
- Cooked chicken (I use rotisserie chicken)
- Sour cream
- Salsa verde
- Smoked Paprika
- Black pepper
- Vegetable oil
- Corn tortillas
- Mexican shredded cheese or cheddar cheese
Note: Scroll down to the recipe card section of the post for the ingredients with amounts included and for more complete directions.
How to Make King Ranch Chicken Casserole from Scratch
This warm, cheesy king ranch chicken casserole is easy to make and comes together quickly with my straightforward directions.
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 375°F and spray a 3-quart casserole dish or 9×13-inch baking pan.
Step 2: Heat the butter in a large skillet and sauté the onions, garlic, poblano peppers, red peppers, and jalapeños.
Step 3: Combine the sautéed veggies with chicken, sour cream, salsa verde, some of the cilantro, and the seasonings in a large bowl. Set it aside.
Step 4: Heat the oil in a skillet. Cook halved tortillas for 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until crispy.
Tip: You can skip the frying step if you’re trying to save time or shave off fat and calories. However, I personally love the crispiness and it’s worth it to me on all levels to give them a quick fry, but it’s up to you.
Step 5: Line the bottom of the baking dish with tortillas, then top with the chicken mixture.
Step 6: Top with cheese.
Step 7: Repeat this layering process of tortillas-chicken-cheese twice more. Tortillas-chicken mixture-cheese.
Tip: If you want the top layer of cheese to be extra cheesy, feel free to add another handful of shredded cheese to the final layer.
Step 8: Cover the pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes and baking uncovered for another 10.
Step 9: Let the casserole sit for 5 minutes at room temp prior to garnishing and serving.
What Kind of Chicken Is Best?
To keep things easy, I recommend shredded rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.
Best Tortillas for Chicken King Ranch Casserole
Corn tortillas are what you I suggest using and not flour.
When selecting corn tortillas at the grocery store, choose ones that are palm/average size, sometimes called ‘street taco’ size, but not burrito size.
If you’re frying them which I recommend for the crispness it lends. And really, you don’t need to use much oil – just 1/4 cup for 20 tortillas!
- Slice the tortillas in half.
- Add a bit of oil to a nonstick skillet, and work in batches while frying them until crispy so you don’t overcrowd your pan. An overcrowded pan means that the temperature of the oil decreases, leaving you with greasy and not crispy tortillas.
- Allow the tortillas to drain on a paper towel.
- Transfer them with tongs (if they’re too hot to handle) to make a base layer in your casserole dish.
- You may not need or use all the tortillas, or you may use a few more. It depends on the exact measurements of your baking dish.
Is King Ranch Casserole with Chicken Spicy?
As written, the recipe isn’t spicy. It’s full of flavor, but not overtly spicy.
- Poblano peppers aren’t spicy. They’re a cousin of a green bell pepper, which aren’t spicy.
- Jalapeno peppers aren’t too spicy either if you remove the seeds and white membranes.
- Green salsa (salsa verde) isn’t typically spicy either.
To make your casserole spicier you can do the following:
- Use canned green chiles (especially fire-roasted) instead of poblano peppers. Or use Rotel or Spicy Rotel.
- Keep the seeds and membranes of the jalapeno.
- Seek out a green salsa which indicates it’s spicy.
Tip: Don’t confuse a serrano chile pepper with a jalapeno pepper. Serranos are thinner and leaner looking than jalapenos which are shorter and plumper looking. The color of the flesh is very similar, a nice “grass green” shade. However, serranos are much hotter than jalapenos and unless you want this dish to read pretty spicy, don’t get confused.
What to Serve with King Ranch Chicken
This is such a filling meal on its own. You really don’t need to worry too much about what you’re going to serve it with.
However here are a few ideas in keeping with the Tex-Mex meets Mexican-inspired flavor profile:
- Mexican Zucchini, Corn, and Peppers (Calabacitas) — An easy Mexican-inspired recipe ready in 15 minutes with zucchini, corn, bell peppers, tomatoes, and green chiles!
- Avocado, Black Bean and Corn Salad with Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette – Everything tastes better with avocado! Easy, healthy and tons of flavor!
- Mexican Bean Salad — Such a fast and easy recipe to make! Plus, it’s loaded with flavor and textures galore. Two kinds of beans, juicy corn and tomatoes, crisp peppers, and green onions are tossed in a lime-chili-cumin vinaigrette that’s perfectly light!
- Grilled Mexican Corn and Black Bean Salad — An EASY corn salad with black beans, zucchini, red onions, cilantro, lime juice, and more!! So much Mexican-inspired FLAVOR in every bite of this family favorite recipe that’s sure to be a hit!
How to Store Leftovers
This king ranch casserole with chicken is wonderful hot and fresh from the oven. Leftovers will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months. Reheat gently in the microwave.
Can I Make This Recipe in Advance?
Yes you sure can assemble king ranch chicken in a casserole or baking dish and get it totally in advance of when you plan to make it.
Simply cover it tightly with foil, and refrigerate for up to 24-26 hours, before baking.
Tip: If you’re baking a casserole that was refrigerated, allow it to set at room temp for 30 to 45 minutes before baking it. Putting a very cold casserole into the oven will require it to bake much longer which can be avoided by simply letting it sit out for awhile.
Tips for the Best King Ranch Casserole
Despite the layering process, this is really an easy weeknight chicken dinner recipe that I know your whole family will love. Here are a few final tips to make sure it’s simply the best king ranch chicken recipe!
Poblano Peppers – They remind me of a jumbo-sized green bell pepper but with a darker, deeper green color. Very “dark forest green” in color.
If you can’t find them for some reason, you can use two extra-large green bell peppers instead.
Jalapeno Peppers – As I mentioned above, make sure not to confuse a jalapeno pepper with a serrano pepper because the later is much spicier and your final dish will read noticeably spicy if you mistakenly use a serrano chile instead of a jalapeno.
Not bad if you like spicy food but not everyone does.
Sour Cream – You can use a low-fat sour cream if you’d like to. Just keep in mind that your final results may not be as creamy as they would have been with a regular sour cream.
Cheese – However, don’t use a reduced fat or lite cheese. They don’t melt well and I simply don’t recommend anything other than a regular, normal fat content, shredded cheese.
Cheese lover? Great, me too! Feel free to go a bit heavy-handed and use a bit more cheese than I call for.
Garnishes – Add some freshness to this hearty casserole by topping it with the remaining cilantro just before serving.
Optionally, you can also add shredded lettuce on top, diced tomatoes, avocado, guacamole, more salsa, or whatever garnishes you enjoy. I love the look and taste of extra fresh garnishes on top if you have them on hand.
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- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium white or yellow onions, diced small
- 2 poblano chile peppers, seeded and diced small (two very large green bell peppers may be substituted)
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced small
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced*
- 3 to 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 5 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken (rotisserie highly recommended)
- 2 cups sour cream
- 16 ounce jar green salsa (tomatillo salsa verde)
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoons salt, or taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, finely chopped; divided
- 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil, optional for frying but recommended; divided
- 10 street taco size or 4 to 5-inch diameter corn tortillas, cut in half (20 halves)
- 4 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese (plus a little extra if desired)
- Preheat oven to 375F and spray a 9x13-inch baking dish or 3-quart casserole dish or similar with cooking spray; set aside.
- To a large skillet, add the butter, onions, poblano, red pepper, jalapeno, and saute over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are beginning to soften. Stir nearly constantly.
- Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir constantly.
- Transfer the chile and onion mixture to a large bowl and add the chicken, sour cream, salsa, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, 3/4 cup cilantro, and stir well to combine; set aside.
- Optionally but recommended, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of the oil to a large nonstick skillet, add about 4 tortilla halves, and fry for 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until crispy. Allow fried tortillas to rest on paper towels. Repeat until you've fried all of the tortillas. If you're not frying them, skip this step and simply layer them in the baking dish as directed in the next step.
- Line the bottom of the baking dish with about 6 to 8 tortilla halves. They can be touching, but not overlapping too much. The goal is to line the base of the pan.
- Top with 1/3 of the chicken mixture. Then evenly sprinkle 1/3 of the shredded cheese. Repeat this process two more times starting with layering the tortilla halves, chicken mixture, cheese. Again, tortillas, chicken, cheese. Tip - For an extra golden and extra cheesy top, I like to sprinkle a bit more cheese on the final layer.
- Cover the pan tightly with foil. Tips - If you want to prep this dish as a make-ahead recipe, after covering with foil, stop here, and refrigerate for up to 24-36 hours before baking. Take the baking dish out of the fridge at least 30-45 minutes before you plan to bake it so it has time to come up to room temp if you're making it this way.
- Bake covered for 20 minutes.
- Remove the foil and bake uncovered for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and is as golden browned as desired.
- Allow the casserole to rest for about 5 minutes before sprinkling the final reserved 1/4 cilantro as a garnish, slicing, and serving. Optionally, you can also add shredded lettuce on top, diced tomatoes, avocado, guacamole, more salsa, or whatever garnishes you enjoy. Leftovers will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days and in the freezer for up to 4 months.
*Notes About Spiciness - This isn't a very spicy dish despite the fair amount of chile peppers.
However, to make it spicier:
- Use canned green chiles (especially fire-roasted) instead of poblano peppers.
- Keep the seeds and membranes of the jalapeno.
- Seek out a green salsa which indicates it’s spicy
Tip: If you want to make sure this stays a normal/average spicy level, don’t confuse a serrano chile pepper with a jalapeno pepper. Serranos are thinner and leaner looking than jalapenos which are shorter and plumper looking. The color of the flesh is very similar, a nice “grass green” shade. However, serranos are much hotter than jalapenos and unless you want this dish to read pretty spicy, don’t get confused.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 730Total Fat: 50gSaturated Fat: 23gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 21gCholesterol: 177mgSodium: 1276mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 5gSugar: 7gProtein: 39g
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