Tag Archives: Mexican oregano

KING RANCH CHICKEN

We have gone to Colorado to visit my sister-in-law who is recovering from a hospital stay. Since she grew up in Texas, we thought some easy-to-eat Texas comfort food would welcome her back home.

If you have ever lived in Texas, you have probably eaten King Ranch Chicken. If you have never lived in Texas, it’s likely you have not even heard of the dish. King Ranch Chicken is served at Texas weddings, funerals, conferences, and of course women’s luncheons. It has even been suggested that the Texas State Legislature should designate KRC as the official State Casserole. A major function of the legislature seems to be to recognize the official state bird, fish, tree, etc. Some wags would  suggest that that is the most important thing they do.

In spite of all this fame, it is unknown how KRC got its name. One thing seems certain: it was not invented on the legendary King Ranch in Far South Texas. That assertion has been steadfastly denied by the wife of one of the past owners. A more likely explanation seems to me to be that it was invented and named by a home cook in the 1940s or 1950s during the heyday of The Joy of Cooking and Betty Crocker when a can of condensed soup was the key to elegance. Perhaps the inventor developed the recipe for her local Junior League cookbook. Versions of the recipe are certainly legion in all sorts of community cookbooks.

The first time I remember eating KRC was at a noon conference for students at a West Texas university many years ago. I don’t recall the topic of the conference, but I do remember that not a speck of the KRC remained. I also remember that it was tasty, gooey, and a little bit spicy.

There are probably as many recipes for KRC as there are Texas home cooks, but there are six key components: chicken of course, corn tortillas (though recent recipes substitute Doritos – a heresy as far as I’m concerned), cheese (some recipes swear by Velveeta), canned cream of mushroom soup, canned cream of chicken soup, and Ro*Tel. If you absolutely can’t stand the thought of canned soup, you can substitute your own homemade béchamel, but then your KRC would not be completely authentic.

Ro*Tel is another Texas invention. It was created during the 1930s in a small town near the Texas-Mexico border and not far from the King Ranch. It is a secret mix of tomatoes, green chiles, and spices. It is a key ingredient of queso dip and for years was only available in Texas. The tiny company was eventually sold to Con Agra, so now Ro*Tel should be available in every grocery store.

This version of the recipe includes two other ingredients that are not always in the recipe, but in my opinion they are both essential to Tex-Mex cooking: Mexican oregano and ground cumin. If you are not accustomed to their flavors you may find them objectionable. In that case, leave then out. Mexican oregano is different from Mediterranean oregano, and the best comes as leaves, stems, and flowers that you crush between the palms of your hands,

Some folks think KRC is too mushy. If you worry about that, cut back on the liquid. One of the beauties of KRC is that you can make the recipe your own. Then you will enjoy widespread fame throughout your neighborhood.

RECIPE

King Ranch Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 18 day-old corn tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 6 crimini mushrooms, torn into pieces
  • 10.5 ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 10.5 ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can Ro*Tel
  • 4 ounces canned chopped green chiles
  • 1 cup chicken stock (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper
  •  4 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
  • sour cream
  • green bell pepper, seeded and sliced into rounds (optional)
  • red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into rounds (optional)

Method

  1. In a large pot, cover the chicken with salted water and bring to the boil. Cook at a low boil for 45 minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked. Cool until it is easy to handle. Then remove the skin, bones, fat, and any gristle. Cut the chicken meat into bite-sized pieces or shred with two forks. Set aside.
  2. Toast the tortillas for 15-20 seconds on both sides in a dry, hot skillet. Cut the heated tortillas in half and set aside.
  3. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and stir for a few minutes until translucent. Then stir in the mushroom pieces and continue to cook until the mushrooms are heated through and well-cooked. Stir in the mushroom soup, chicken soup,, Ro*Tel, green chiles, optional chicken stock, oregano, and cumin. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir well and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside for assembly of the casserole.
  4. Prepare a 9″ x 13″ x 4″ glass baking dish by spraying the inside with baking spray. Ladle a scant half cup of the soup mixture into the baking dish and spread across the bottom of the dish. Arrange 12 tortilla halves to completely cover the bottom of the dish.
  5. Arrange about half of the cut-up chicken to cover the tortillas. Then top with a little less than half of the soup mixture. Top with about one-third of the grated cheeses.
  6. Arrange another layer of tortilla halves, topped with the remaining chicken and more soup mixture, reserving about 3/4 cup for the top, and half the remaining cheeses. Dot with teaspoonfuls of sour cream.
  7. Arrange a final layer of tortilla halves. Top with the remaining soup mixture and cheeses.
  8. Decorate if desired with the optional bell pepper rings.
  9. Bake for one hour in the middle of an oven preheated to 350ºF, until the top is well-browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, and serve immediately.
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POSOLE

Posole (po-so-lay) is decidedly Southwestern and maybe even uniquely Northern New Mexican, although it undoubtedly has some kinship to hominy from the American South. The word refers to at least wo different things.

First, it is one of the names used for nixtamalized corn. That’s dry corn treated with lye or an alkaline solution to remove the hard outer husk. It is a process that was developed by the peoples of the New World. You can read more about the process in one of my earlier posts about the history of corn. In other places, posole is called hominy.

Second, the word refers to a soup made with posole. In New Mexico the soup is popular during the Christmas-New Year holidays, but it is really a favorite during all the colder months of winter. For that matter, lots of people eat it all year long, sometimes instead of beans and rice. The soup has as many versions as there are cooks, but some things are constant: (1) posole, (2) chile (either red or green – you could probably even use both, (3) onions, (4) protein (chicken, pork, turkey – maybe even tofu and vegetarian), and (5) herbs and spices (cumin, cilantro, and Mexican oregano). Optional items include grated asadero or Monterrey jack cheese, sliced radishes, and diced avocado.

You can buy posole canned, frozen, partly cooked, and dry. For me the best version of the soup uses dry posole, but if you choose to use it you should be prepared for a long cooking time, much longer than described in most recipes.

Whatever version you choose, it is well worth the effort. For our family, it is a universal favorite that is required some time during a visit to Santa Fe.  So here’s the recipe for pork green-chile posole.

RECIPE

Pork Green-Chile Posole

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces dry posole
  • water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1½ pounds boneless pork shoulder, cubed (If you’re feeling festive, you can substitute chops)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 7 ounces fresh-roasted, frozen, or canned New Mexico green chiles
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 pints chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled in your hand
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups grated asadero or Monterrey jack cheese (optional but highly recommended garnish)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cilantro leaves (optional but highly recommended garnish)
  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled and diced (optional garnish)
  • ½ cup thinly sliced radishes (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)

Method

  1. Soak the dry posole over night in a large pot of water. Add more water if the posole absorbs it all.
  2. At least 6 hours before you plan to serve the soup, heat the oil over a medium-high flame in a large frying pan. Cast iron works well. Add the pork to the hot oil, being careful not to crowd it so you can get a good brown crust on the meat. Remove the browned meat to a plate with a slotted spoon.  Lower the flame to medium-low. Then add the chopped onion. Add more oil if needed. Cover and let the onions sweat for about 5 minutes, stirring them occasionally. Do not let them brown. Add the green chiles and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Stir in the browned meat and pressed garlic. Add the flour and stir to completely coat the meat and vegetables. Cook for an additional 5 minutes to lose the flavor of uncooked flour.
  3. Drain the soaked posole into a large bowl, reserving some of the soaking liquid. Transfer the meat and vegetable mixture to the soaking pot, add the chicken stock and enough of the soaking water to cover.  Bring the mixture to a boil, add the soaked posole, and adjust the liquid so that everything is completely covered.
  4. Add the cumin and crumbled Mexican oregano and reduce to the simmer. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add water if necessary.
  5. Cook until the individual posole kernels are soft and “exploded” to resemble (a little bit) popcorn. They should have the consistency of al dente pasta.
  6. When the posole is done, serve it in large bowls. Pass bowls of cheese, cilantro, avocado, radishes, and sour cream for each guest to add to taste.

Notes:

  • This recipe should serve 6 to 8 people
  • If you think the soup is finished before you are ready to serve it, just turn down the heat or even re-heat it. Posole is one of those things that gets better with time.
  • Some people prefer chicken. Use that instead if you wish. It is every bit as tasty.
  • Piquancy is controlled by the heat of the chile. Food sensitivities in our family dictate mild, but you can always add your own hot sauce if you want your bowl to be spicier.
  • Asadero is a Mexican cheese made with a process similar to that of mozzarella. If you can’t find it, mozzarella or Monterey jack will substitute perfectly.
  • Mexican oregano often comes in a package of leaves, twigs, and flowers. That’s the kind you want. You should crumble the dried pieces between your hands to get the full flavor.

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