Main dish Tex-Mex

Chicken tortilla casserole

chicken tortilla casserole DSC4463

For the past few weeks, like many folks this time of year, I’ve been sneezing, coughing and feeling wretched. But while this year may be off to a slow start, I ended last year in the best way possible—flying around the country, visiting those that I love.

It’s unusual for me to go over a week on the road eating only home-cooked meals, as usually when I travel—especially to Texas—I find myself in restaurants more often than home kitchens. Even when I’m visiting family, we’ll often pack up the car and head to our favorite Tex-Mex spot—old, familiar places where the staff gives us such a warm welcome it feels like calling on a friend.

But not this trip. Every place I stopped, people cooked and then we sat around a table and enjoyed a meal or two. Sure, that sounds simple and often it was. Though it being the holidays and all, there were plenty of fancy meals, as well. The best thing about all of this cooking, however, was that I didn’t do any of it. Nope, I let everyone else do the cooking and took it easy. That may have been the best gift I received all year!

chicken tortilla casserole | Homesick Texan

As I’ve been on the road the past few months for work and joined people for dinner, I’ve joked that the theme of my next book is that I will go to someone’s house, have them cook for me, and then I’ll write about it. And I’ve been served some incredible meals! Of course, I love to share food that I’ve made, but I have to admit that it’s been fun being able to kick back and simply enjoy time with those that I love.

Now, don’t worry—I have no plans to stop cooking—it’s what I wake up and do every day, and being able to work with food makes me feel like the luckiest gal in the world. But usually when I get together with people you’ll find me bustling away in the kitchen—chopping onions, stirring pots and rolling out biscuits. While this is fun, I had forgotten how to relax. But this trip, once I started coughing and sneezing I realized it was probably better to step aside and let others take care of me.

(Though before I stopped cooking, I prepared for myself a get-well concoction made up of a whole head of garlic, apple cider vinegar, honey and other things I found in my dad’s fridge, such as broccoli, peas, ham, lemon, and yogurt. No, it didn’t work and the lingering smell did not make me popular.)

During the holidays, many delicious meals were offered. I can’t name a favorite because there wasn’t one—they were all special and satisfying in their own way. From the turkey my dad smoked on Christmas Eve, to the tamales the family rolled together on a snowy night, from my Grandma’s homemade pie, to my brother’s buttermilk pancakes—everything we ate was splendid.

Near the end of my trip, we visited family in Anderson, a charming small town in Grimes County, Texas. My cousin had us over for Sunday lunch, and after a few hours on the road it was satisfying to stop, sit in her warm kitchen and visit. At that point, my cold had begun to limit my sense of smell and taste, which was upsetting as I wanted to enjoy one of my final meals in Texas. There was no need to worry, however, as when we walked in the door my cousin told us we’d be eating Tex-Mex. She then pulled out of the oven a bubbling casserole fragrant with cheese, chicken and chiles. It smelled fantastic.

As she placed the dish on the table, she told us it was called racetrack casserole. “It reminds me of the soft chicken tacos I once ate at a Mexico City racetrack,” she explained, going on to say that the casserole was sort of like King Ranch chicken, without the soups and stuff. The casserole’s name made me smile. While it was new to my mom and me, my cousin’s family didn’t need any explanation about racetrack casserole, as they were well familiar with this old favorite.

chicken tortilla casserole | Homesick Texan

We slid onto our plates warm slices of the casserole, oozing with cheese, chicken, and chiles. “It’s not the prettiest thing,” said my cousin, “but it tastes good.” And she was correct. Perhaps it was the chiles, perhaps it was the cheese, or perhaps it was the company, but this casserole was just what I needed on a cold grey day. And like so many of the meals I’d eaten while sharing time with my family, it was the best way to end the year.

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chicken tortilla casserole DSC4463
5 from 1 vote

Chicken tortilla casserole, also known as racetrack casserole

Servings 8
Author Lisa Fain


Ingredients for the chicken:

  • 1 3-pound chicken
  • 1 sprig cilantro
  • 1 jalapeño, cut in half
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • Or
  • 1 3-pound cooked chicken, roasted or poached, shredded
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth

Ingredients for the casserole:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 5 jalapeños, seeded and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (10-ounce) can tomatoes and green chiles, such as Ro-Tel
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnishing
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder, plus more for garnishing
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt
  • 10 corn tortillas, quartered
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded Monterey Jack
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded Cheddar
  • Salsa, for serving
  • Sour cream, for serving
  • Guacamole, for serving


  1. Place the chicken in a large pot and cover with 1-inch of water. Add to the pot the cilantro, jalapeño, salt and peppercorns. Bring the pot to a boil and then turn the heat down to low. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Remove the chicken with tongs from the water and when cool enough to handle, remove the skin and shred the chicken. Toss the chicken with 1/4 cup of the cooking broth (reserving the rest of the broth for another use), then taste and add salt if needed.

  2. Alternatively, if you want to skip making the chicken you can shred an already cooked 3-pound chicken and toss with 1/4 cup of chicken broth.

  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish.

  4. In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium-low heat. Add the onions, bell pepper and jalapeños and while occasionally stirring cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Add to the skillet the shredded chicken with broth, tomatoes, cilantro, chili powder, cumin and thyme, and stir until well combined. Turn off the heat, taste and adjust seasonings. Add salt to taste.

  5. To assemble the casserole, line half of the tortillas along the bottom of the baking dish. Evenly spread on top half of the chicken mixture, half of the Monterey Jack and half of the Cheddar cheese. Repeat the layering with the tortillas and chicken, then topping with the rest of the cheese.

  6. Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve warm with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.

  1. Miss Meat and Potatoes

    I love the name 'racetrack casserole' – for some reason it just makes sense. Hope you are feeling better and that you had a great time visiting family and friends over the holidays!

  2. Sonya Robinson

    Love your blog. As a homesick Texan myself (now living in Indianapolis), I often make a version of this casserole. This Christmas I sent myself a Greenberg smoked turkey and froze part of it. I made the casserole with the leftover smoked turkey and some hatch chiles I roasted last summer and froze for the year. All I can say is that it tasted like Texas. There is no other way to describe it! I'm sure you know what I mean!

  3. This looks absolutely amazing! Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to try it out!

  4. Looks great! So what's your favorite: Racetrack Casserole or King Ranch Chicken (also on your blog)?

  5. Courtney

    I sometimes use shredded rotisserie chicken from the grocery store for recipes like these. My local grocery store recently started selling smoked whole chickens next to the rotisserie ones. I used some of the chicken to top a batch of chilaquiles, and it was amazing. The smoky flavor complemented the cheese/tomato/chiles combination really well. I'm willing to bet that using smoked chicken in this recipe would also be a winner.

  6. Farmer Jen

    I make a "chicken enchilada" casserole that uses the cream soups. This racetrack casserole has the same cheese & chile flavors without the soup. I am definitely going to make this. Very soon. Mmmmm…

  7. Queen of Dishing

    Did you drain the rotel?

  8. This looks like a go to recipe. I love a corn tortillas recipe layered like a lasagna. By the way back in another post, you made Molletes with homemade Bolillos. I've been making them for over 3 years now. This recipe never gets old. Happy New Year to you.

  9. Oh yeah, this will take me back to Texas this weekend, even if it is just with my taste buds. Thank you for keeping us all together through your recipes, memories and photos. Florida is a fer piece from the panhandle of Texas and the family and friends I left behind.

  10. Lisa Fain

    Miss Meat and Potatoes–isn't it a fun name?

    Sonya–I do indeed know what you mean!


    Ed–I love them both!

    Courtney–Yep, that's what my cousin does, too. Makes for a super easy dinner. And how cool that they now sell smoked chickens!

  11. This is home cooking at its finest…simple and satisfying, a total comfort.

    Rotisserie chickens are a modern marvel! I use them to make cool-kitchen chicken salad in the summer, or to speed up putting together a meal any other time. My daughter likes cold chicken for lunch and this is an easy way to have some on hand for her. I would probably have reached for it for this recipe, and I'm glad you suggested it because I think it helps more people feel like they can cook at home for their people, too.

  12. Lisa Fain

    Farmer Jen–That's exactly how it is!

    Queen of Dishing–I did not drain the Ro-Tel.

    Louise–Thank you–I'm so pleased that recipe has made you happy all these years!

    Brenda–It will definitely take you back home! Enjoy the virtual visit and thank you for the kind words!

  13. Anonymous

    I love your blog, hope you are feeling better, I got the flu and a cold, thought I was gonna be a goner. Read the article about you and other neat cooks with Ina Garten, it was wonderful to see what you look like, you sweet Texan you! I will try to make this casserole as when I get back from illnesses I love some chili's, jalapenos, cheese and some corn tortillas which this casserole looks like it has plenty of and cheese, yummmmeee! Happy New Year, continued good health!

  14. Lisa Fain

    Celeste–They are very handy!

    Anon–Thank you and may you feel better soon.

  15. Anonymous

    Ughhhh! I'm a Texan living in NJ, and have been absolutely craving some Tex Mex! I do believe this would fill the bill nicely! Thanks for sharing this great recipe.


  16. First, your get-well concoction sounds like it deserves an entry all its own — even if, as you said, it was less than successful.

    And since you mentioned it, the concept of going to someone's house and writing about the meal would be an interesting framework for a cookbook.

  17. Looks delish! Would it be crazy to swap the chicken for some chopped cooked shrimp? I think it might be yummy.

  18. wyowoman

    Help! I'm making this now – and chicken broth is mentioned twice: toss chicken with a 1/4 c, and the later "Add to skillet the shredded chicken, chicken broth, tomatoes, chili powder…" But that second chicken broth is not in the ingredients list. how much to add?
    Thanks, Kristin

  19. Lisa Fain

    Deb–You're welcome!

    Janus–Ha! Maybe I'll write about it some day!

    Katie–If you love shrimp, I bet it would be good!

  20. Lisa Fain

    Wyowoman–My apologies for being unclear. I just meant the chicken broth that you'd already tossed with the chicken–there's no extra broth to add.

  21. SeattleDee

    Ahhhhh, this is just the recipe to lure us back into post-flu eating, eating and enjoying it that is. Your comment "…I had forgotten how to relax" brought a wry smile of recognition… a useful flash of self-awareness.
    Happy, healthy, productive 2013!

  22. That looks like one cheesy, messy plate of goodness!

  23. vanillasugarblog

    so far, nothing in the sick dept here
    i've started taking more probiotics–this flu craze has me crazed.
    the media really hypes up the flu.
    I cannot remember the last time I made a casserole, well actually we should not call this a casserole, this is more of a kicked up modern casserole that needs a new word. lol

  24. mamabigdog

    I made this over the weekend and everyone loved it. I added a small can of sliced black olives (drained). I also used canned diced jalepenos, as I'm just not good at handling the fresh ones without doing myself in. It came out great and I hope to make it again. Thanks!

  25. Looks a bit like "King Ranch Casserole"; the casserole has about the same ingredients but with less cheese & with cream of chicken. I think I know what I will be making for dinner tonight. (Even if it means having to break into my stash of RoTel — it's hard to come by in the Middle East!)

  26. Mrs. Jeffries

    I make a very similar casserole but my circle of friends like to call it Baby Shower Casserole… it keeps showing up at showers! But instead of tortillas, we use crushed corn chips and add a few olives to the top. It's a fool proof dish everyone loves.

    (I CAN'T WAIT for the new book btw…)

  27. This was excellent – just what the dr. ordered for a cold, grey midwestern evening!

    We did add a couple layers of black beans that I made yesterday (the standard – onion, cumin, mexican oregano) and thought that was a very nice addition.

    Thank you – I'm looking forward to trying more of your ideas!

  28. anotherfoodieblogger

    Lisa, I just adore your cookbook and love your style. So glad to see you posting again. I added you to my blogroll, too! I love me some chicken tortillas, and a casserole is a great, easy way to go with them. I anxiously await your next cookbook, hint hint!

  29. Rocky Mountain Woman

    I was also sick over the holidays, but no one was around to cook for me, so I ended up with canned soup and fried eggs with toast. I lost a few pounds which never happens that time of year, so it was ok.

    Can't wait to try this and see if I can put a few of those pounds back on!!

  30. Is the 1/2 cup chopped cilantro supposed to go into the chicken mixture at some point? From the description it looks like it isn't supposed to just be garnish but I don't see it added anywhere.
    I guessed and threw it in with the garlic, figured it couldn't go too wrong. The whole dish was great.

  31. Lisa Fain

    SeattleDee–A happy, healthy productive 2013 to you, too!

    Kevin–It is indeed!

    Vanillasugarblog–Hope you stay well.

    Mamabigdog–The olives are an excellent addition. I'm so glad y'all enjoyed it!

    Tami–That's exactly how it is.

    Mrs Jeffries–Ha! I love it! And thank you for the encouraging words about my new book. Hope you enjoy it!

  32. Lisa Fain

    PVL–Wonderful news! I'm so pleased it was jut what the doctor ordered. And I'll have to add some black beans to it myself.

    Anotherfoodieblogger–Thank you!

    Rocky Mountain Woman–Glad you're feeling better and have fun putting back on the weight!

    Emily–The cilantro should go in with the tomatoes and such. I fixed it–thank you for noticing.

  33. Carmen @LifeLines

    I haven't been here in awhile….have been busy settling in to making life in a new country (we jumped into our biggest, scariest, most incredible Dream last year).

    I want to congratulate you on your book publication. I will be visiting more often—trying to find ways to transform recipes to fit the limited supply of spices and food stuffs that we have here in order to make a variety of delicious meals.

  34. Just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying your cookbook – it was a Xmas gift ! So far I've tried two recipes; the mustard chicken and the pork carnitas. Both were labeled a BIG success by my husband and myself. Am looking forward to trying more recipes … um… except the frog legs..;-) A wink w/a smile!

    San Pedro, CA

  35. This looks great! I like the idea of King Ranch without all of the condensed soups. Looking froward to trying it out soon!

  36. Francesca

    Um… I want this. I just- I'm in love.

    As a fellow Texan transplanted elsewhere, I salute you!

  37. Given the current flu flurry, maybe you could put up a special post of flu-alleviating "comfort" meals….

  38. Sounds perfect! I've been looking for a tortilla casserole recipe that didn't have some godawful condensed cream of whatever. Thanks and hope you're feeling better! Making this for Superbowl!

  39. Hi Lisa, I am in love with your blog 🙂 I seek your advice: I am prepping the "filling" ahead of time so I can quickly assemble it and throw it in the oven after work one night. Would you advise a longer bake time if the ingredients start at fridge temperature rather than skillet temperature? Thanks!

  40. Lisa Fain

    Carmen–Thank you, and congrats on making your dream happen!

    MaryO–Thank you, I'm so glad you're enjoying it!

    Chelsea–Hope you enjoy it!

    Francesca–It's a very easy casserole to love!

    Shelley–Not a bad idea.

    Mallory–Hope you enjoyed it!

    Bonne–I'd cook it for about 10-15 minutes longer if you're beginning with it chilled.

  41. Aimee ~ See Aimee Cook

    Lisa, made this last week and loved it! I especially love that it doesn't have any cream of X soup. Thanks for sharing it!

  42. Anonymous

    Love the story and the recipe…and wondering the even bigger question… who is this cool
    Texas lady who was out and about at a racetrack in Mexico City? I'd like to hear that story;)

  43. Great recipe. I just made it last night and it was delicous. My partner though so too. I did cheat and use already shredded chicken. Oddly I only needed 6 corn tortillas instead of 10.

  44. Anonymous

    My husband came home from a week's worth of travelin' & saw this recipe printed out & noticed I FINALLY went to grocery store…he said, Dude! (FYI, I am from LA, he is from OC, took me long time to realize, "dude" is unisex 😉 OK, "Dude, are we having that for dinner tonight?" And there were icicles as we call the drool hanging off his lips. (Just want to say we are both CPAs, lol.) Love your blog & bought your cookbook, too. Sandy (smittycdm) p.s., he will be diggin' in tonight, smack smack

  45. LadyJayPee

    I made a half-recipe of this for two of us last night. It was delicious and full of flavor. I love that there is no canned soup in it. I made my shredded chicken by cooking it on high in the crockpot for about 4 hours with the jalapeno, cilantro, salt, & black peppercorns. Worked great. And we get leftovers tonight! Yippee! Thank you!

  46. I would love it if you wrote a book about eating other people's cooking! especially family recipe stories– those are just the best!

  47. I roasted a chicken yesterday…a nearly 6 pounder!! – with cut limes in the cavity and lime juice basted. Chicken and broth were superb – just one of those very good birds!!

    For the casserole, I used queso fresco instead of jack, fresh roasted jalapenos, fresh diced tomatoes with fresh roasted anaheim green chiles.

    Otherwise as written – WOW! – with the big bird, I doubled everything so have some in the freezer. The one I cooked this morning…I had a scoop for breakfast and then another scoop and then forkfuls until I forced myself to put it away.

    This is a definite keeper.

  48. Gale Barnett

    I am going to use my Instant Pot and make a double batch of chicken with lots of extra onion and garlic with added carrots and three bay leaves. Make Chicken Tortilla Casserole then Chicken & Dumplings or on top of salad.
    Thanks for the Flour Tortilla Recipe. I am a homesick Texan in Alaska.

  49. Carra Stasney

    I made this for potluck at my son’s school’s teacher appreciation week. They loved it! Now I’m going to make one for myself 🙂

    • Lisa Fain

      Carra–I’m so glad it was a hit at the teacher potluck and yes, you should definitely make a batch for yourself!

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