Wednesday, June 28, 2006

John Wayne Casserole: The Recipe and the Backstory

Well, I promised a post about Clay's John Wayne Casserole so I made it this afternoon for our weekly Beach Night outing. Because of its rather unusual moniker, people who are lucky enough to partake want to know why it's called John Wayne Casserole. This evening was no different. And because this is Clay's recipe, I should let him tell the story, pretty much like he told our group tonight.
"Many, many years ago, before I knew Christine, when I was living up here in my yurt, I was invited to a potluck gathering of friends. Now back then I really didn't have a clue what to bring to a potluck, so I just got out my cast iron pot and started layering in the foods that I liked to eat - mainly tortillas, beans, cheese, salsa and spinach. After I'd filled the pot, I put the lid on, carried it over to the gathering and stuck it at the edge of the fire they had going."Well, I got to talking to people, drinking a few beers and turning the pot every once in a while, then I kinda lost track of it in the crowd. Pretty soon it was time to eat and when I got up to where the food was being served, I saw that someone had thankfully taken my cast iron pot out of the fire and set it up with the rest of the food. To my surprise, there was just a spoonful left and people were exclaiming about how good it was and asking me what I called it. Well, I didn't know what I called it, but it being cooked in a cast iron pot over an open fire, it seemed like a cowboy kind of thing so I said John Wayne Casserole."
Of such things are legends made. Clay has made his casserole many times since, receives accolades every time and is inevitably asked for the backstory, which he loves to tell. And even though I'm the one who had the time to put it together today, I had to ask him several times for instructions - which I'm sure pleased him no end.

John Wayne Casserole
3 large corn tortillas
2 cans seasoned beans (drained), or refried beans
1 red onion, chopped fine
1 - 24 ounce jar of your favorite salsa (I used Pace Picante because that's what was on hand)
1 - 16 ounce jar of chipotle salsa (my addition, ditto Pace)
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup grated jack cheese
1 - 12 ounce bag fresh spinach
meat from 1 cooked, boneless, skinless chicken breast, shredded

In a cast iron Dutch oven, spread a layer of salsa over the bottom of the pot. Lay down one large corn tortilla, centering it in the pot. Pour all the beans from one can over the tortilla. Sprinkle 1/2 of the red onion over the beans, then 1/2 of the shredded chicken, then a cup of the cheddar cheese, then 1/2 of the spinach and some more salsa. Place another tortilla over all of this and press down to compress. Repeat this layering one more time, ending with a third tortilla on top of it all. The spinach will make it seem rather impossible to contain the whole thing in the pot, but, as you can see from the top photo, it will cook down.

To finish the layering, spread the chipotle salsa over the final tortilla, and top with the jack cheese.
If you don't happen to have a campfire handy, with the lid on top (you could use foil if you don't have a lid), place the pot in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes or until it's hot and bubbly. If you do have a campfire (we're so lucky up here), place your lidded pot either directly in the hot coals or on a grill over hot coals and, turning it occasionally so it won't burn, cook as above.

You could, of course, take creative license and do all sorts of things to gussy-up this dish. But do keep in mind its rustic, cowboy-like beginnings, and don't stray too far from the herd.


  1. Ack!!! That looks so good!!!!!!!! It's way too early for me to get so hungry. I have a big weakness for things like that.

  2. Wow. I love these kinds of dishes. No campfire here on Nob Hill but I will try this in the oven. Thanks, Christine!


  3. Sher,
    I can attest to its goodness. The challenge is to eat a moderate portion, but it's so easy to take "just another spoonful" after another...

    Hey Karletta, Good to hear from you. I guess a campfire on Nob Hill might raise a few eyebrows, huh? Enjoy the dish however you cook it.
    Loved your LA piece!

  4. hi christine,

    that's a great story! I might try a veggie version!

  5. Hi Catherine,
    Thanks for visiting. My husband always made it vegetarian and everyone loved it. I'm the meat eater who just had to mess with a good thing. :)


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