- Craig Claiborne born (1920)
King Ranch Chicken: Don't Call It a Casserole
King Ranch Chicken
- 2 chicken breasts, split and trimmed of fat
- 2 Tablespoons ancho chili powder
- 2 Tablespoons ground cumin
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 limes
- 1 poblano pepper
- 1 red bell pepper
- One 10-ounce can Ro*Tel tomatoes
- 4 roma tomatoes
- Olive oil
- 1 red onion, minced
- 5 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 jalapeño, minced
- 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 Cup chicken stock
- 1 Cup yogurt or low-fat sour cream
- 1 Cup can chopped green chiles
- Handful of cilantro, julienned
- Corn tortillas
- 1 Cup shredded low-fat Mexican cheese blend
- 1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced thinly, for garnish
- 4 radishes, sliced thinly, for garnish
I’m not a Texan, but I do wear cowboy boots and have had the guts to serve my salsa to native Texans and yay or nay it being one of the best they’ve ever tasted. And while I do think my salsa is better than almost any you’ll find in New York City where I’m from, I don’t claim to know how to make King Ranch Chicken the way a native Texan would. For that I turn to my lovely girlfriend Angela whose family goes back seven generations, and her advice on how to make a healthy version (though as a native Texan, she noted she would never make it this way). King Ranch is one of her favorite things to make, partly because it’s so delicious, but also because as most casseroles are, it’s so darn easy. Speaking of which, yes, it’s a casserole, but don’t call it that. At least in her parts, it’s just King Ranch Chicken. Why? Don’t mess with Texas. Making King Ranch healthy is pretty simple. No cream of mushroom soup, no cream in fact, and light on the cheese. Just sub in low-fat sour cream or even better, fat-free Greek yogurt. It won’t taste healthy. One last note, as you should already know if you’re a Tex-Mex aficionado: one of the key ingredients is a can of Ro*Tel tomatoes. You can usually find one if you look hard enough long enough in your local groceries, but no worries if you can’t — just use canned diced tomatoes (or tomatoes that have been grilled or roasted) and fresh and chopped green chiles.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you have a grill, preheat on medium-high heat.
Season the chicken with the ancho chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper, to taste, and a drizzle of lime juice. Then grill or bake. Depending on the thickness of the breasts this should take about 7 minutes on each side. Add the peppers and tomatoes to the grill and turn them every few minutes. Use 2 forks to shred the chicken, then set aside. Put the peppers in a bowl and cover them with plastic wrap until the skin peels off easily, for 10 minutes. Seed the peppers and tomatoes and chop them, then reserve for the sauce.
For the sauce, warm some olive oil over medium-low heat in a sauté pan and sweat the onion, garlic, and jalapeño. When the onions become translucent, add the flour and mix well. Then, add the chicken stock and stir until incorporated and the sauce begins to thicken slightly. Reduce the heat to a simmer and mix in the yogurt or low-fat sour cream, peppers, tomatoes, and chopped green chiles. Remove from the heat.
Spoon a light layer of the sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish just to coat it in order to prevent sticking. Tear the tortillas into bite-sized pieces. (If you’re using 3-inch-wide tortillas, just quarter them and then layer them evenly over the bottom of the dish.) Scatter the shredded chicken over the tortillas evenly, and then cover with the sauce. Scatter the shredded cheese evenly over the sauce then cover with another even layer of tortillas. Repeat for a second layer, ending with an even (and light!) coating of cheese on top.
Place in the oven and bake until the cheese bubbles and turns brown on the sides, for about 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro or micro-cilantro and a few slices of avocado and radish.