How disheartening to read a recent Serious Eats article wherein a writer in San Francisco posits a recipe for the iconic Texas casserole: King Ranch, including rice, beans (or ANY diced cooked vegetable!), shredded pork or beef or chicken, and just when it couldn’t get any worse she allows how a vegetarian version would work just fine with ROASTED WINTER ROOTS.
While the rules of Texas Red chili have long been established, I can find no rules (other than the common law of good Texas kitchens) regarding King Ranch casserole. So here they are:
A good King Ranch will always use chicken as the meat; sure it might be delicious with pork, beef, or goat, but an authentic King Ranch incorporates chicken as the backbone of the dish.
Authentic King Ranch always calls for layer after layer of delicious corn tortillas. Griddled prior to the layering, they offer a textural counterpoint to the soothing softness of the chicken and sauce.
No rice in the King Ranch. It’s fine to make as a side, but you just don’t put rice in your King Ranch.
Cheese. King Ranch has layer after layer of cheese with cheese always being the final layer. Common Texas cheeses for the casserole include Longhorn Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby or a combination of these. Make sure you have lots of cheese on hand when you tackle the casserole. It’s integral to the recipe.
No beans. Once again, a side of charro beans, borracho beans or refrieds is always a good idea when it comes time to serve your King Ranch but IN the casserole? That’s not how we do it in Texas.
While I’ve known some fine vegetarian folks over the years the thought of one of them making a vegetarian casserole and calling it King Ranch makes me wonder what one of them might taste like cooked up in a big pot. Vegetarians have plenty of their own casseroles and I’m certain a few of them are good but they’re not King Ranch.
A King Ranch is always carefully constructed. Would you make all the ingredients for lasagna in a big bowl then just dump the contents into a baking dish? No. Nor shall the King Ranch be treated in such a way. She must be coaxed into being with each layer being carefully built in such a way that the flavors, though separate, ultimately combine to form a coalition of deliciousness simply unparalleled in casserole cookery.
The ground rules for King Ranch have now been established. My recipe (which inspired an honest woman I once knew to resort to skullduggery in an effort to best me in a casserole cookoff) shall be published in a fortnight.