This is the antsy time of year. Let’s scratch our itch to spend more of our time out of the house and less of it in the kitchen with this easy, healthy recipe for from-scratch King Ranch Chicken!
An all-in-one meal that will leave you with just one pan to wash in the end, this sped-up skillet version of classic King Ranch chicken casserole offers lean protein, fresh veggies, and Tex-Mex style comfort.
Hustle, and this recipe is ready in 30 minutes. Use that free time to go for a longer walk, stay for one more round of patio drinks (a Skinny Margarita perhaps?), or just do what I’ve been doing and turn your face up to the sky and relish the sun.
Now that warmer weather has (finally!) arrived, I can hardly sit still. Fast, healthy dinners are on the move, especially if they taste great reheated. Your future self will thank you for cooking this tonight when you’re enjoying the leftovers tomorrow.
If you live anywhere in the Midwest, you know I’m ahead of myself here.
The month of April tends to be a heartbreaker, so I’m sure that Mother Nature has a few cold snaps still in store. This King Ranch Chicken casserole recipe suits me then too.
With its layers of gooey cheese, tortillas, and hearty chicken all bathing in a velvety, creamy sauce, it’s comforting enough to soothe my cold-weather-weary soul right into spring.
Add the ease/deliciousness factor, and I fully anticipate to still be cooking it this summer and on into fall too!
So, What Is King Ranch Chicken?
I first heard about King Ranch Chicken on an episode of The Pioneer Woman.
It’s a Tex-Mex casserole that layers corn or flour tortillas with cheese, chicken, diced tomatoes, spices, more cheese, cream of this, and cream of that.
It was like an enchilada, pan of nachos, and your grandma’s best casserole classics rolled into one and baked to gooey bliss.
The name “King Ranch Chicken” allegedly hails from King Ranch, which is a large ranch in Texas. The recipe and the ranch don’t seem to have any actual connection to each other (at least not one that I can find), but I feel like if I showed up at King Ranch with a big pan of it, they might let me in the front door.
Honestly, the more I read about King Ranch Chicken, the more it reminded me of my Chicken Tortilla Casserole, but with the creaminess factor dialed waaaaaaaay up. And the more I read, the more I knew I had to create a healthy version of it.
With it comes a deep affinity for taking recipes that are traditionally heavy on the processed “cream of” soups and making them from scratch instead. I also adore finding ways to make true comfort foods like King Ranch Chicken better for you while staying true to their cozy roots.
The Best King Ranch Chicken—Made from Scratch
To keep the casserole creamy, I used a moderate amount of reduced-fat cream cheese in the sauce. Just two ounces was all I needed to eliminate the canned soup entirely, and the resulting casserole was gratifyingly rich.
To make the casserole healthy, I loaded it with lots of fresh veggies. Instead of sour cream, we topped our servings with nonfat Greek yogurt and big slices of fresh avocado.
For the tortillas, an essential King Ranch Chicken ingredient, I opted for corn because I love the way their texture breaks down and mixes with the creamy sauce, thickening it further. (If you prefer, you can certainly can make this King Ranch Chicken with flour tortillas instead.)
My other major departure with traditional King Ranch chicken casserole was to cook the entire recipe in a skillet that I popped under the broiler to melt the cheese at the end, instead of layering everything in a baking dish.
The skillet approach cuts the cook time in half and reduces dishes too!
The name “King Ranch Chicken” might not have anything to do with the monarchy, but feasting on it certainly made me feel like a queen. Try the recipe, and you’ll feel like kitchen royalty too!
What to Serve with King Ranch Chicken
- Salad. For a fresh side dish, try this Anytime Arugula Salad or Creamy Cucumber Salad.
- Veggies. Add even more vegetables to your meal by serving this dish with Roasted Zucchini or Crock Pot Honey Carrots.
- Margarita. Serve it with a Skinny Margarita, and you’re done!
King Ranch Chicken
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 red bell peppers chopped
- 1 small yellow onion chopped
- 1 poblano pepper chopped
- 1 small jalapeño seeded and finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1/2 tablespoon ground chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (substitute a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend to make gluten free)
- 1 cup unsalted chicken broth or water
- 2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups shredded or diced cooked chicken breast about 1 medium breast (for cooking tips, see this post on How to Cook Shredded Chicken, Baked Chicken Breast, Crock Pot Shredded Chicken, or Instant Pot Chicken)
- 1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles drained (10 ounces)
- 3 (6-inch) corn tortillas torn into rough 1-inch pieces
- 2/3 cup shredded Mexican-blend cheese divided
- Chopped fresh cilantro optional
- Nonfat plain Greek yogurt optional
- Place a rack in the upper third of the oven (usually the second-most slot from the top) and preheat the oven to broil.
- In a medium ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot but not yet smoking. Add the bell pepper, onion, poblano, and jalapeño. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 to 9 minutes.
- Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and salt and stir constantly. Continue cooking and stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook, still stirring constantly, until they are thoroughly coated and the white bits of flour disappear, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the broth and bring to a boil. Stir and cook until the mixture is somewhat thickened, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low.
- Break the cream cheese into the skillet in bits. Stir until melted. Gently stir in the chicken, diced tomatoes, torn tortillas, and half of the cheese. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
- Place the skillet under the broiler. Broil until the cheese is melted and browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Do not walk away. Watch the skillet the entire time to make sure it doesn’t burn.
- Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve hot with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
- TO STORE: Store king ranch chicken in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: Gently rewarm leftovers in a large ovenproof skillet in the oven at 350 degrees F until warmed through. You can also reheat this dish in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: King ranch chicken may be stored in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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