Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frito Pie with Chili

Frito Pie with Chili

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, I Know — But When You Want It, You Want It 

We all crave foods that are bad for us or that we’re embarrassed to admit we like — often both. They’re our guilty pleasures. We visited the concept a few months back in our Cheddar Cheese Chicken Curry post.

You’ve got your own list, I’m sure. It might include Tuna Noodle Casserole (with corn-flake topping!) or fake Mexican “queso” dip (made with Velveeta!) or Jell-O Mold (with marshmallows!).

Me? At this time of year, I hear the siren song of one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Frito Pie.

It’s decadent and delicious — and I can’t resist it. I’ll bet you can’t, either.

Frito Pie with Chili

Recipe: Frito Pie

To make the classic Frito Pie, you rip open one of those individual serving-size bags of Fritos and ladle in some piping hot chili. Then smother it with diced raw onions, grated cheddar, and maybe jalapeño pepper slices. In the 1980s, when I lived in Texas, you could find the classic Frito Pie sold at lunch counters all over the state.

We’re doing the “upscale” version today — which means we’re going to use an actual dish instead of a torn Frito bag. But the concept is the same.

Most of the time, cooks don’t make a batch of chili just to turn it into Frito Pie. This is a “leftover” dish. So I’m going to assume you already have some chili in the freezer.

If you don’t have a favorite chili recipe, may I suggest my Basic Chili recipe? Other good – and healthier! – choices would be Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans or Vegetarian Chili.

I always freeze leftover chili (and soup) in 1-quart containers, which is enough for two hearty servings. So this recipe serves two (or three if you really load up the bowls with Fritos). But you can easily scale it up (or down) to suit your needs.

  • 1 quart leftover chili
  •  2 tablespoons diced raw onion (or to taste)
  • 1 ounce grated cheddar cheese (or to taste)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, sliced or seeded and diced (optional; ripe – red – jalapeños are terrific)
  • a couple of good handfuls of corn chips (I always use Fritos)
  1. Put chili in medium-sized saucepan over medium heat to rewarm it (if frozen, add a bit of water to the pot so you don’t scorch the bottom).  Stir occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, dice the onion, grate the cheddar cheese, and (if using), slice or seed and dice your jalapeño.  (Make sure to wash your hands after handling the jalapeño pepper — the oil can burn if you rub it into your eyes.)
  3. Place a handful of corn chips in each serving dish (a good-sized soup bowl)
  4. Once the chili is hot, ladle it into each serving dish.
  5. Top chili with onion, optional jalapeño pepper, and grated cheddar cheese.
  6. You may want to sprinkle a few more corn chips on top of the cheese if you want to be fancy.
  7. Serve and enjoy!
Frito Pie with Chili

  • Ingredient quantities are highly elastic in this recipe. Alter quantities to suit your taste. 
  • Likewise, add/subtract ingredients to suit your whimsy. Some people prefer pickled jalapeños to fresh, and some elect to top the dish with a dollop of sour cream. 
  • I’ve long resisted the packaged, grated cheese you can buy in the supermarket, preferring to grate my own. I gave in the other day and purchased some grated cheddar for a dish I was making (I bought the supermarket brand — I see no reason to use a name brand). As a control, I also purchased some supermarket-brand chunk cheddar and grated it. The result of my taste test? They were identical! No quality loss in the packaged grated cheese, to my surprise. And the grated cheese was even a few cents cheaper than the chunk cheddar! 
  • I like the shape of Frito-Lay brand corn chips, so I always use them even though the supermarket brand is equally tasty. Besides, if you’re making Frito Pie you should use, well Fritos! And of course Frito-Lay is a Texas company, and this is a Texas dish, after all. 
  • The usually accurate Wikepedia suggests that Frito Pie is “typically” made as a baked casserole. I say: No way. That may be a popular variation of the dish (and good for feeding a crowd), but the classic version is chili spooned over Fritos. 
  • Actually, the original version might have used canned chili. Specifically, Wolf Brand chili, the canned chili in Texas. As evidence, I point to this Homesick Texan Frito Pie post, in which the author describes her grandparents importing Fritos and Wolf brand chili to Kentucky (where they were graduate students) in the late 1940s. 
  • Drink a Dr Pepper with your Wolf chili and Fritos, and you’ll have the complete Texas convenience-food trifecta. 
  • Good news! Wolf brand chili is now available outside of Texas. Their website says it’s available throughout the Midwest, and I’ve seen it in supermarkets here in St. Louis. I’m quite happy making my own chili, so I’m not inclined to buy theirs. But perhaps I will try it someday just to satisfy my anthropological curiosity. 
Frito Pie with Chili
More Research Needed!

Traditional Texas chili contains lots of meat, but no beans.  My own chili preference leans towards including beans.  For Frito Pie, however, a true Texas all-meat chili would be authentic — and it might have the flavor edge.  This clearly is an area that needs more study. 

Come to think of it, I really need to try out all the popular taste permutations, don’t you think?  Frito Pie with traditional Texas Chili, Frito Pie with Wolf brand chili, Frito Pie Casserole.  Why, the possibilities are endless!

“But your waistband isn’t,” Mrs. Kitchen Riffs observes.

“This is research!” I respond, sucking in my stomach.

Some people just don’t understand science.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Homemade Chili
Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans
Vegetarian Chili
Cheddar Cheese Chicken Curry


Vicki Bensinger said...

We love frito pie and guess what I'm making - Tuna Noodle Florentine tonight for dinner and my husband is excited about it. With the weather like it is today in st Louis I've just got to make Comfort food. I almost made stew but my husband opted for the casserole.

Your Frito Pie looks wonderful. Enjoy it!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Vicki, yum, Tuna Noodle anything is delicious (the Florentine riff makes it healthy!). Cool weather really makes most of us hungry for hearty food. Thanks for the comment!

Beth said...

This would be a guilty pleasure I'd happily make room for!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Beth, you can't go wrong with Frito Pie! Guilty pleasures are such fun, and alas, I eat them much more than I care to admit. Thanks for stopping by.

Katherine Martinelli said...

How did you know this is one of my favorite foods of all time?! Seriously. Growing up in New York there was (still is) a restaurant across the street called Cowgirl Hall of Fame that serves Frito Pie in the bag and all. That was my first introduction. On a cross-country road trip after college I got to sample some in Santa Fe that was out of this world. Anyway, need to make soon!! Yours looks absolutely amazing.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Katherine, glad to hear you, too, are a Frito Pie fan! I haven't had it in Santa Fe, but New Mexico is the chile capital of the US so I'll bet the Frito Pie there is great. You really do owe it to yourself to make a batch soon! Thanks for the comment.

Kathryn said...

Love frito pie, and this looks amazing. Definitely welcome comfort food now that the weather is getting so chilly!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Kathryn, thanks for the compliment! Frito Pie is great for cold weather. I love kiddie food like this. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I’ve been eating Frito pie all my life and didn’t know it! My parents owned a restaurant for 20 years. A Cafe really and everything was homemade. They made their own slaw, Chili, sliced their own cheese, cut their own French Fries, fried chicken was made to order. It would have been perfect for Diners, Drive-ins(which is exactly what it was) and Dives. When my Mom would make chili at home she always made too much. It started as hamburger/hotdog chili. The next day or so she would add tomatoes and beans to make chili beans but she always had Fritos instead of crackers, Serrano peppers and sour cream. Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories!!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Anonymous, this is such a fun (and tasty!) dish, isn't it? Glad to remind you of it! Thanks for the comment.