Chicken tortilla casserole

As you may have heard, we’ve been having a little bit of a snow day here in Chicago. It’s been a full day’s work just to shovel out the driveway (I only took one turn, and I’m not sure when my abdominal muscles will recover). If you’re snowbound, too, you might have the ingredients for this 1980’s style casserole on hand. Or maybe you can have chicken for dinner tonight and save the leftovers to make this tomorrow. We just got the call that school is canceled again, so it would be good to have another dinner already planned.

I know casseroles are impossibly old-fashioned, un-hip even. But let’s just call the casserole “retro,” and acknowledge that it has several things going for it: 1) You can make it ahead (freeze it, even!), bake it later; 2) It’s a great way to recycle leftover chicken and the three bags of crumbled tortilla chips hiding in the pantry; and 3) The kids might eat it!

I eliminated the condensed cream of chicken soup from the original recipe and instead made a tasty white sauce as the base. The day before, I made a large roast chicken in the slow cooker (Fauxtisserie Chicken), and there were about 4 cups of diced chicken left after I picked the meat off the carcass. I put all the bones back into the slow cooker, covered it with water, and cooked it on high for 4 hours. (Usually I put it on low for 8 hours overnight.) Anyway, by the next day I had lots of chicken and chicken broth to use for this meal, and more for the freezer. I like to stretch my $4 chicken as far as possible.
I made our casserole very mild (the salsa said “medium,” but it seemed mild even to me), but you could add some jalapeños or hot sauce if you like things spicy.
Chicken Tortilla Casserole

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk (skim works just fine)
2 cups diced cooked chicken
3/4 cup green salsa
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used a 4-cheese Mexican blend, but cheddar or Jack are fine)
3/4 bag of tortilla chips

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan and add the chopped onion. When the onion starts to look soft and translucent, add the garlic. Stir for a minute, and then stir in the flour.  Cook for another minute, and then whisk in 2 cups of chicken broth and 1 cup of milk. Raise the heat to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce begins to bubble and thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat off and stir in the salsa and diced chicken.

In a large baking dish (9″x13″ or something similar), put a layer of slightly crushed tortilla chips. Drizzle about 1/2 cup of broth over the chips.  Spread 1/3 of the chicken and sauce mixture over the chips.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded cheese on top.  Repeat these layers twice more, ending with a final layer of cheese.  Cover the baking dish tightly with foil. Refrigerate or freeze if you’re assembling the casserole ahead of time.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour (perhaps longer if you’ve refrigerated the casserole).  Keep the foil on for the first 45 minutes, and then remove it and bake until the cheese bubbles and the edges begin to brown.

Serve with rice (I made brown rice), and some extra salsa or sour cream if you like. The kids ate a little rice, but mostly scooped up the casserole with more tortilla chips, as if it were a hot dip. They were eating and not complaining, so I kept quiet and ate my dinner in peace.

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