When Sandy Pollock and Crystal Cook go to work on a traditional recipe, they usually like to bring it up to date with a modern twist or two. After all, they call themselves the Casserole Queens, specialists in making a classic quick-fix dish fit for today's dinner mat.
But when it came to changing the King Ranch Casserole, Sandy wouldn't hear of it. "There are just some things that you don't mess with," she says. "It's the way Mama made it!"
The recipe embodies the taste of South Texas, where Sandy grew up. "Beautiful South Texas flavors," she says, "great Tex-Mex — nice and spicy, cheesy, gooey, yummy warmness."
Just don't ask them how the recipe came to be. "The history of it is a little murky," Sandy admits. "Nobody really knows 100 percent where it came from."
At first glimpse, it appears the name comes from one of the largest ranches in the world, King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas. But it's not that simple: King Ranch is known for its beef, while King Ranch Casserole features chicken.
This has led to some awkward situations. According to Crystal, the ranch owner's wife used to cringe when offered the dish as a tribute. "Her heart would drop every time some well-meaning hostess would come to her house and present King Ranch Casserole to her, because they didn't have anything to do with it."
The history of the King Ranch Casserole doesn't matter to Sandy. "I'm just glad it exists. I don't care what the history is as long as it's in my belly."
As for the changes to the casserole that Crystal had proposed? She backed down in the face of Sandy's enthusiasm for the original recipe. She has learned to appreciate it, canned soups and all. Crystal tells Sandy, "Your love for it has made me love it."
Recipe: Traditional King Ranch Casserole
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of chicken soup
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup chicken broth
1 (10-ounce) can of Ro-Tel tomatoes
1 teaspoon garlic salt
12 (8-inch) corn tortillas cut into quarters
1 (3-pound) roasted chicken, boned and shredded
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups store-bought grated Mexican-blend cheese (8 ounces)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine the cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, chicken broth, tomatoes and garlic salt. Stir until warm, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Put half of the tortillas in the bottom of the pan, layering half each of the chicken and onion, then sprinkle with one-third of the cheese mix. Pour half of the soup mixture over the top, and then repeat the layers. Top the casserole with the remaining third of the cheese.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the cheese has melted and browned slightly.
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