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Quick Comfort Casserole Redux – King Ranch Chicken

June 23rd, 2008 by Brooke

When you live in Texas for two years, you get to know a dish by the name of King Ranch Casserole. Like its cousin BBQ, it makes an appearance at every bridal shower and every birthday party whether food is served at 11 a.m. or 9 p.m. (At midnight, they serve breakfast!) In short, it’s a Mexican lasagna: layers of meat, veggies and cheese between tortillas and, like most lasagnas, it requires some time to collect and assemble the ingredients, starting with baking southwestern seasoned chicken breasts with celery and onion.

This weekend, for dinner at a friend’s house, I set out to make a gluten-free King Ranch Chicken casserole that stacked up to the original in terms of taste and creaminess and, if possible, was a little easier to put together. Swapping flour tortillas for corn was a no-brainer, but we experimented with ways to help them keep their texture (outcome recommended in recipe below). The original King Ranch recipe calls for one each of cans of condensed “cream of” chicken and mushroom soups – a pantry staple I’ve missed here and there in cooking during my transition to a GF lifestyle. Since I was trying to cut corners, making my own flavorful creamy roux substitutes was not an option. Then, Eureka! Google showed me that Health Valley has GF versions of both creamy standards but sadly, the Annandale Harris Teeter stocks neither. I remembered reading online that Progresso makes a GF creamy mushroom soup which I grabbed and, moments later, Adrian found a GF Progresso chicken cheese enchilada soup nearby. We were certain we could make some sort of fabulously creamy substitute using the two.

Other shortcuts included using two fresh rotisserie chickens and buying a bag of precut tri-color peppers with onion in the freezer section. Real Texans always use Velveeta but, being a grown-up, I try to avoid it for obvious reasons so we bought a bag of a four-cheese Mexican blend. In the end, we had a casserole that lived up to the original and the prep and assembly took less than 40 minutes. Here’s how:

Gluten-free King Ranch Chicken Casserole

  • 2.5-3 cups better pieces pulled chicken from two rotisserie chickens, skin removed
  • 1 bag frozen precut tri-color peppers with onion
  • 1 can Progresso creamy mushroom soup
  • 1 can Progresso cheese chicken enchilada soup
  • 3 teaspoons xantham gum
  • 1 bag pre-shredded Mexican four-cheese blend
  • 18- 20 6″ corn tortillas
  • 2 cans Rotel diced tomatoes (as spicy as you like), drained
  • Spices: S + P, cumin, paprika, cayenne, chili pepper, onion powder, garlic salt

Heat oven to 350. Spray a 9×13 casserole with cooking spray. While pulling chicken: 1) bake tortillas directly on oven rack until dehydrated but not quite crispy 2) in a skillet, sauté frozen vegetables until the water is evaporated and they are cooked through slightly liberally adding salt and peper and 3) in a saucepan, over very low heat, combine 3/4 of each of the cans of soup and add 3 teaspoons xantham gum until thick and creamy. Reserve excess of both soups by combining in one can. Once dehydrated and cool to the touch, stack and cut tortillas into 6 wedges by making 2 cuts across.

With the back of a spoon, spread a thin layer of the thickened soup mixture on bottom of casserole pan. Arrange tortillas to cover bottom. Layer approximately 1 cup chicken with 1/2 peppers and onions and 1/2 Rotel. Top with 1/2 thickened soup mixture spread to cover and sprinkle with 1/3 bag of cheese. Take a moment to spice liberally to taste. Repeat layers with tortillas, chicken, veggies, Rotel, remaining soup mixture, another 1/3 bag of cheese and spices. Make a “roof” with tortillas. Drizzle reserved mixed soups in can over roof and top with remaining 1/3 of cheese.

Cover with foil. Bake 50 minutes, remove foil and continue baking 15 minutes until cheese is gold and bubbly. If desired, broil for more goldn’bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve with refried beans, corn, guacamole, sour cream and a fresh green salad.

For more on the history of the dish, to see a version of the original recipe, and to explore a more labor-intensive nearly-gluten-free (swap flour for cornstarch) gourmet version, visit the Homesick Texan blog.

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