A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from September 02, 2006
King Ranch Casserole (King Ranch Chicken Casserole)

The King Ranch in Texas began in 1853 and is one of the most famous ranches in the world. It’s said that two brands of cattle started there. King Ranch is not, however, known for its chicken.

No one knows where King Ranch (chicken) casserole began. The King Ranch itself provides no clues. The casserole recipe contains chicken, toritillas, chicken soup, and mushroom soup; probably the recipe began some time after World War II, when casseroles and these ingredients (such as canned soups) were popular with homemakers.


King Ranch website
THE LEGACY
The jeweler was a difficult man and the boy, practically enslaved by him, was chafing under the man’s mistreatment. Nascent greatness would not be shackled or ever satisfied with such circumstances. At this tender age, the restless and adventuresome young Richard King made contacts on the Manhattan wharves and soon stowed away on a ship heading south – south toward his destiny.

Young Richard distinguished himself as a tireless worker and a fast learner with an ever-keen eye for opportunity. He rose quickly in the steam boating business on the Alabama and Florida rivers, becoming a captain. After moving to South Texas, he founded a steam boat line with his lifelong friend Mifflin Kenedy – setting up ports and moving goods and people along the lower Rio Grande River.

In the middle of the 19th century, Captain King traveled north from the Rio Grande to Corpus Christi. He traversed a region then known as the Wild Horse Desert and was captivated by it. His eye for an opportunity was at its sharpest when, after well over a hundred miles of riding over the wild lands, he and his party came to the cool, refreshing waters of Santa Gertrudis Creek. King saw that this place that nourished so much wildlife could also sustain domestic stock, and King’s vision for a great cattle ranch began to take shape.

He and business partner Gideon “Legs” Lewis purchased the 15,500-acre Mexican land grant then known as the Rincon de Santa Gertrudis – the first foothold of what would become the legendary King Ranch of Texas.

The 1860s were busy, challenging years for Richard King and his new bride Henrietta, the refined daughter of Presbyterian minister from back East. This refinement would become a hallmark of the remote ranch as weary wayfarers found, over the years, not only an impressive ranching operation, but an oasis of gentility and warm hospitality in the very midst of an otherwise wild and often hostile country.

The Civil War years found the resourceful Captain King thriving in his steamboat business by running the Union blockade, but his long-term vision was for the new ranch he was building. His bride Henrietta played an important role in guiding daily activities on the ranch when the Captain was away on business.

Captain King, ever the innovator, did a new thing on the land he was taming. He borrowed from two time-honored models – both the southern plantation and the Mexican hacienda systems to synthesize a hybrid approach to ranching on his burgeoning holdings. 

Texas Monthly
King Ranch Casserole
by Mimi Swartz
(...)
No one seems to know who invented it. The casserole may have come to King Ranch, but the descendants of Captain Richard King prefer to tout their beef and game dishes. “Kind of strange, a King Ranch casserole made with chicken,” noted Martin Clement, the head of the public relations for the ranch. Mary Lewis Kleberg, the widow of Dick Kleberg, admits that her heart sinks every time a well-meaning hostess prepares it in her honor. Most likely the dish got its name from an enterprising South Texas hostess or a King Ranch cook whose preference for a poultry doomed him to obscurity.

Yet King Ranch casserole’s general origins are easy to discern. Certainly it owes a deep debt to chilaquilas, which also contain chicken, cheese, tomatoes, tortilla chips, and chilies--the staples that campesinos often combine to stretch one meal into two while retaining a semblance of nutrition. But the dish owes as much to post-World War II cooking, when casseroles made with canned soups were the space-age cuisine. Because they could be made quickly and made for later use, casseroles liberated the lady of the house. “ The perfect entree for a minimum amount of time in the kitchen for the hostess,” the McAllen Junior League cookbook notes. The recipe made its way from one woman’s club to another, networking in its most fundamental form. “ It was one of those recipes that everybody just had a screaming fit trying to get,” Mrs. Joe Gardner of Corpus Christi recalls.

If the women of the fifties loved this recipe because it freed them of the family kitchen, their children love it because it takes them back there. They have adapted it to their taste, of course: Trendy cooks now substitute flour tortillas for corn, while the truly convenience-crazed use Doritos. Purists doctor the recipe for sour cream--a move back toward Mexican authenticity. Houston’s Graham Catering has come up with a low-salt version. Even that bastion of Junior Leaguedom, San Antonio’s Bright Shawl lunchroom, has changed with the times. Chef Mark Green has followed the lead of the late Dallas gourmet guru Helen Corbitt by dropping canned soups; he now adds his own “roux” of milk, shredded cheese, garlic, and sliced mushrooms. “It sells good,” he says. “It goes fast.”

Google Books
Pastry Queen:
royally good recipes from the Texas Hill Country’s Rather Sweet Bakery & Cafe
by Rebecca Rather with Alison Oresman
Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press
2004
Pg. 1:
The 150-year-old King Ranch, by the way, is arguably the best-known ranch in Texas, and possibly the world. A national historic landmark, it covers more area than the state of Rhode Island and is credited with being the birthplace of two major American cattle breeds. Ironically, King Ranch officials seem much slower to claim credit for this enduring casserole. As public-relations honcho Martin Clement commented to Texas Monthly in 1989, “Kind of strange, a King Ranch casserole made with chicken.”

25 June 1967, Pot Arthur (TX) News, pg. 17F:
KING RANCH CASSEROLE
1 large hen or 2 small fryers, stewed
1 package cut tortillas
1 large onion
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 can of tomatoes and chilies
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup grated cheese
Alternate layers and top with soups, tomatoes and stock. Bake at 330 degrees for one hour uncovered.
Mrs. Fred A. Brown
Nederland

23 January 1976, Ruston (LA) Daily Leader, pg. 5:
King Ranch Casserole
1 chicken, boiled and boned
1 pkg. tortilla chips crunched
1 med. onion, chopped
2 cups grated cheese for sauce
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can tomatoes with green chilies
1 can chicken broth

Place a layer of tortilla chips in a 2 1/2 qt. casserole dish. Top with 1/2 med. onion, 1 cup cheese and half of the bones chicken. Pour half of the sauce (heated in a saucepan) over the mixture. Repeat layers.

Bake uncovered for one hour in a 350 degree oven.

24 April 1991, Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, Ohio), “King Ranch Casserole recipes are Texas tradition” by Linda Cicero, pg. D3:
In a recipe sent to us from a cookbook titled “Food Editors’ Hometown Favorites,” Kitty Crider of The Austin American-Statesman explains that the King Ranch extends into eight Texas counties. “The folks there don’t eat beef at every meal; sometimes they have this casserole, which has become a favorite with homemakers and caterers because it’s easy to extend. It has become the traditional Lone Star State standby for potluck suppers.”

Ah, but here’s an intriguing tidbit, from Julie Stearns of Miami: “About three years ago, a newspaper in Dallas featured a story about King Ranch Chicken in their food section. They didn’t print a recipe because they didn’t want to get into the controversy as to which was the ‘right’ recipe. They did say that it was the most printed recipe by all Junior League cookbooks in the state of Texas. The most interesting fact I thought was that the King Ranch had no idea where the recipe originated, but they knew they had nothing to do with it!”
(...)
KING RANCH
CHICKEN CASSEROLE
1 2 1/2- to 3 pound chicken
1 bay leaf
12 soft corn tortillas, torn in quarters
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, diced
3 tablespoons butter
1 10 3/4-ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 10 3/4-ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 10-ounce can tomatoes with green chilies, undrained
1 to 2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (1) Comments • Saturday, September 02, 2006 • Permalink


It has always been called the King Ranch Casserole. However, it is simply called Chicken Enchilada Casserole in the 1966 Kimball H.S. cookbook from Dallas, Texas.

Ginger Hearn (native Dallasite)

Posted by Virginia Ann 'Ginger' Hearn  on  06/05  at  12:02 PM

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