Recipe: King Ranch Chicken Casserole

It’s no wonder why this recipe is one of our all-time reader favorites. This hearty one-dish meal combines store-bought ingredients with freshly cut vegetables to save time without losing flavor or nutrients. You can substitute pre-shredded cheese and pre-chopped onions to cut prep time; and leave out green chiles and cumin if your family doesn’t like a lot of heat. Just combine all the ingredients and let the oven do the rest for a Southwestern-style classic that tastes even better as leftovers the next day.

Step-by-Step Video: King Ranch Chicken Casserole

William Dickey

We can’t survive or celebrate anything without them.

Aunt Vernelle just took a tumble—quick, break out the Pyrex and make her a good ol’ Southern chicken casserole. Sissy’s home with a new baby. Let’s surprise her with a breakfast casserole and a big pan of lasagna so she won’t have to cook. That sweet elderly deacon passed right before his 90th  birthday. We’re carrying over a ham and a sweet potato casserole for his girls.

What is it with Southern casseroles and Mama’n’em? It’s as if they’ve found a way to stir together love, concern, consolation, congratulations, comfort, and joy—and top it with Ritz crackers and butter.

“Casseroles are so easy to transport,” a church hostess says. “They’re just classic comfort food—ideal whenever a member of our congregation passes.”

“They’re best for comfort, whether it be an illness or bereavement,” Mama agrees. “And the wonderful thing about Southerners is, we don’t judge. If you’re hurting in any way whatsoever, we think you deserve a casserole. I carried one to your Aunt Bernice when Snowball died. She just loved that cat. So I took her a chicken poppy seed.”

Casseroles are also an economically sound investment. Says one Southern cook, “We just want to make sure there’s enough of a good thing for everybody to have some!” Nothing stretches a bird or a pound of ground beef like a casserole.

They’re also convenient. If we may give a nod to Annelle in Steel Magnolias, many good casseroles can be found in the “freezes beautifully” section of our cookbooks, and we do love a dish that freezes beautifully.

But that’s not all. We have many, many reasons for making this ultimate one-dish. Here are just a few, gathered from our Southern Facebook Brain Trust and other fans of the 9X13:

"Without casseroles, the Southern chicken population would completely overtake us."

"We believe in supporting the poppy seed industry."

"They’re perfect for church potlucks (but if you know what's good for you, you'll check with the hostess committee to see what everybody else is bringing before you reach for that recipe box)."

"Just take a few cans of this ’n that, and mix ’em together—you’ve got something special."

"They’re so easy to make, and they taste great."

"So much cream-of-something soup! So little time!"

"A casserole is a great way to hide vegetables from kids so they’ll eat them without realizing it."

"We make casseroles because Publix has Ritz crackers on special. Or Kroger has French fried onions on special. Or Piggly Wiggly and Harris Teeter have their 'cream of' soups on special."

"Pecans will never go bad as long as there’s a sweet potato casserole on the menu."

"What else would we do with slivered almonds?"

"Because of cheese. We make casseroles so we’ll have something to cover with lots and lots of cheese."

WATCH: Southern Places You're Probably Mispronouncing

If you're "carryin' food" to another community, by all means, make sure you know how to pronounce it. Otherwise, the locals might question the quality of your casserole.