The origin of King Ranch Chicken is somewhat debatable, but no one disputes that this dish, named for the epic South Texas ranch that covers a gargantuan territory, is Texana at its finest. King Ranch Chicken is a soft, slightly spicy, cheesy mixture of tomatoes, tortillas, chicken, creamy sauce, and green peppers. It's the ultimate comfort food--especially when the comfort needed involves a taste of home.
The recipe I used during the years of our Eastward progression was from a First Place recipe book--First Place being the Christ-centered health program whose materials I was privileged to help launch when I worked in Nashville. This recipe collection was the first I encountered to start subbing healthy ingredients for this casserole that's synonymous with All Things Texan.
My October 2010 issue of Southern Living magazine featured King Ranch Chicken in a collection of simple slow-cooker recipes. I had never seen a slow-cooker adaptation for King Ranch Chicken, so I was eager to try to take it on, especially since it called for a generous portion of my garden-fresh green peppers that I knew would help spice it up.
In the year 2000 a gracious God allowed us to return to Texas for good. I believe I heard the bells of heaven ring out the day our four vanloads of belongings crossed that state line and we were able to settle back among our roots. I no longer need to cook King Ranch Chicken to ground me in Texana, but I still bask in that great flavor. This slow-cooker recipe bubbled in the crockpot overnight and with my garden's own green peppers added was a welcome reward the next morning so I could say "got-it-done" for that day's meal.
King Ranch Chicken
4 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of chicken soup, low-sodium variety
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup, low sodium variety
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chilies
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
12 9-inch) fajita-sized tortillas
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese (I use cheese from 2-percent milk)
Stir together first 8 ingredients. Tear tortillas into 1-inch pieces; layer one-third of tortilla pieces in a lightly greased 6-quart slow cooker. Top with one-third of the chicken mixture and 2/3 cup cheese. Repeat layers twice. Cover and cook on low 3 1/2 hours or until bubbly and edges are golden brown. (I cooked mine overnight on low with no problem.) Uncover and cook on low 30 minutes. Makes 12 servings.