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King Ranch Chicken is a Texas-style casserole with loads of flavor! Chunks of chicken and vegetables are smothered in a zesty cheese sauce and baked until hot and bubbly.
What is King Ranch Chicken?
King Ranch Chicken is a very popular casserole in Texas community cookbooks and homes. The name of the dish is inspired by King Ranch – one of the largest cattle ranches in the United States – but there doesn’t seem to be any direct connection to this dish and the ranch. Having said that, this creamy, cheese casserole has big, bold flavors!
Many recipes for this easy casserole include cans of both cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup – but our recipe is a from-scratch version.
Chunks of chicken are poached in a super flavorful broth made with a variety of Tex-Mex seasonings and herbs. Then the shredded chicken is combined with zesty vegetables, tomatoes and corn tortillas – giving this comforting casserole a hearty consistency. The casserole is baked with a generous amount of cheese on top, yielding a fantastic, cheesy and creamy dish that everyone loves!
Key ingredients and Substitutions
- Chicken – Boneless, skinless chicken breast is ideal for this recipe.
- Poaching liquid – You’ll poach the chicken in a mixture of chicken stock, onions, garlic, jalapeno pepper, fresh cilantro, and a variety of seasonings including black pepper, cumin, chili powder, coriander, and Mexican oregano.
- Corn tortillas – You can use either yellow or white corn tortillas in this recipe. These will be cut up and used as a thickener in the casserole.
- Vegetables – More onion, bell peppers, jalapeno, and garlic are added to the casserole. Some versions of this recipe include mushrooms too – although we left them out.
- Diced tomatoes with chilies – Buy Rotel brand. We used mild but you can use a spicier version if you wish. Strain and discard the liquid.
- Jack cheese – You can use mild Monterey Jack or zesty Pepper Jack cheese in this recipe. It all depends on how spicy you like it!
Special supplies needed
- Pot or large saucepan to poach chicken
- Medium-sized, oven-safe casserole dish (ours was a 9x9x3-inch dish from IKEA but any 2-quart casserole dish should do.)
How do I make King Ranch Chicken?
- Make a flavorful, Tex-Mex broth by combining chicken stock, cilantro, onions, cilantro, garlic, black peppercorns, cumin, chili powder, coriander and Mexican oregano in a large saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Cut the chicken into one-inch pieces, trimming off any fat.
- Place the chicken pieces into the hot poaching liquid and turn off the heat. Allow the chicken to poach for five minutes.
- Strain the broth, keeping the liquid. Pick out the chicken pieces and discard the remaining vegetable solids. You can either leave the chicken pieces whole or shred with two forks.
- Sauté bell peppers, onion, jalapeno and garlic in butter and oil, then thicken with flour.
- Add the strained broth along with the tomatoes, cooked chicken and cut-up corn tortillas.
- Pour the chicken mixture into a casserole dish and top with Jack cheese.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Let rest and serve with chopped cilantro over each portion.
Chef’s Tip –
When you poach the chicken, note that it will not be fully cooked after five minutes. It will finish cooking in the oven as it bakes. Do not over-cook the chicken at this point – if you do, it will be tough and rubbery in your casserole.
Frequently asked Questions
- Can I make King Ranch Chicken ahead of time? Yes! The casserole can be fully-assembled and baked later. We suggest bringing the casserole back to room temperate before baking.
- How do I store any leftovers? Cover and refrigerate for up to two days.
- How do I reheat the leftovers? We typically reheat single servings in the microwave until warmed through, but you can also place the casserole back in the oven to reheat.
- Can I freeze this casserole? We haven’t tried doing so ourselves, but you probably can. The chicken mixture might separate a bit as it thaws, but if that doesn’t bother you, freezing should work.
You might enjoy these other casserole recipes:
- Baked Chicken Salad
- Italian Ham and Potato Casserole
- Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole
- Baked Enchilada Meatballs
- Chicken Broccoli Pasta Bake
3 cups low sodium chicken stock (homemade if possible)
¼ whole large onion, coarsely cut up (save the rest of the onion for later)
1 large garlic clove smashed
8 whole cilantro stems with leaves
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 pound boneless chicken breasts cut into one-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large orange bell pepper, diced (could use any color bell pepper)
1 large green bell pepper diced
1 small jalapeno, seeded and diced small
The remainder of the large onion from earlier, diced (about ¾ of a large onion)
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 10-ounce can Rotel diced tomatoes with chilies, drained (We used the mild version)
8 white or yellow 6-inch corn tortillas cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups Jack cheese, shredded (Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack, depending on your heat tolerance)
Chopped cilantro, as garnish
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
In a small pot or large sauce pan, place chicken stock, onion, garlic, cilantro, peppercorns, cumin, chili powder, coriander and oregano and bring to a boil. Cover and lower to a simmer and cook five minutes.
Remove lid, add uncooked chicken breasts, cover and remove from heat. The chicken will sit in the hot liquid for five minutes off heat.
Pour mixture through strainer and save liquid. Pick out chicken pieces and lay out to cool on a plate or platter. Discard the remaining solids. (NOTE: The chicken will not be fully cooked after this step. It will finish cooking later in the process.)
If you want your chicken shredded, shred now with two forks, or leave in pieces.
In a large nonstick 3-4 quart pan, melt butter in oil over medium heat and once melted, add both bell peppers, jalapeno and onion and saute three minutes. Add garlic and cook one more minute.
Lower the heat to medium-low and add the flour and stir. Cook for two minutes, increase heat to medium high and add the stock reserved from earlier.
Stir to form a sauce then add the drained tomatoes, cut up corn tortillas and the cooked chicken from earlier. Stir to combine then remove from the heat.
Spray a 9x9x3-inch casserole dish with kitchen pan spray and pour in the mixture.
Top with the Jack cheese and bake for 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Place under the broiler for a minute or two to brown slightly.
Let sit for ten minutes to set up and then serve with chopped fresh cilantro over the tops of portions.
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