Growing up, my mother made King Ranch Chicken at least once a month. You may think that’s a lot considering how many weekday lunches it would count towards, but I couldn’t blame her. It’s easy to prepare, totally customizable, cheap, and we never grew tired of it. Since moving out of my parents’ house and researching other variations of the recipe, my version has evolved into its own expression of this weeknight superstar. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to assemble King Ranch Chicken, so think of this recipe as more of a template than an actual set of instructions.

The only photo of this dish on my phone, zoomed in and poorly edited. Now taking applications for food stylists.

Ingredients

1 whole chicken (cooked and shredded, skin removed)

1 small onion, diced

2 serrano peppers, diced

2 poblano peppers, diced

1 rib celery, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

10 corn tortillas cut into quarters

1 can/box cream of mushroom soup

1 can/box cream of chicken soup

1 can original Rotel

1 quarter cup greek yogurt

16 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon chile powder

1 teaspoon paprika

Pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute onion, peppers, celery, and garlic over medium heat for 5 minutes until slightly softened but not completely translucent. Remove from heat and dump into your largest mixing bowl.
  2. Add to the bowl chicken, soups, Rotel, yogurt, cumin, oregano, chile powder, and paprika. Stir to combine.
  3. In an lightly oiled 9x13-inch casserole dish, begin layering. First, place down a layer of corn tortillas. You don’t need to totally cover the bottom. Just create an even layer with as few gaps as possible. It’s not a lasagna. Then, add a layer or your chicken soup mixture, followed by another layer of tortillas. Add the remainder of your soup, then half of your cheese, and a final layer of tortillas.
  4. Sprinkle the top with remaining cheese and bake for 40 minutes or until casserole is bubbling. Then, turn on your oven’s broil setting and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until the cheese on top is browned and crisp. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve with rice, beans, and Mexican coleslaw.

Note: As you can imagine, there are a lot of ways to customize this recipe to your liking. Here are a few moves I make to change things up.

a) For a vegetarian option, substitute cream of chicken soup for more cream of mushroom and replace the chicken with sauted portobella mushrooms. Just add them to the pan when cooking your peppers, onions, garlic, and celery.

b) Replace the Rotel with 1 bag or can of enchilada sauce.

c) Replace the Greek yogurt with sour cream.

d) Scavenge your pantry for ingredients you’ve been meaning to use or simply forgot you even had. Anything from shallots to canned corn to adding a layer of refried beans is fair game here.

e) Are serranos too hot for you? Use jalepeno. Don’t like poblanos? Use bell peppers. Want more celery? Add it. And notice how I didn’t specify the type of onion recommended. As Chef John would say, “That’s just you cooking.”

Speaking of Chef John, here’s his version of King Ranch Chicken: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c71LDIorOKI