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Tex Mex Comfort Food: Frito Pie 
2nd-Sep-2008 06:01 pm
Anthony Bourdain

The makings of Frito Pie...
Frito Pie

If I am not mistaken, the first time I had a Frito Pie was at Jazz Fest in New Orleans many years ago. If I am not mistaken, it was the first year that the Dave Matthews Band was there, although I cannot be sure. It was Jazz Fest, and it was New Orleans. I only had one of these treats, instead favoring the crawfish bread and roast beef po boys that I knew would last me longer than most of the stuff the food vendors were offering - and then there was the beer... LOTS OF BEER... And the bourbon... LOTS OF BOURBON... Egads, that trip. Part of the reason I know I really had a great time is that I can hardly remember any of the music, or places I stumbled into and out of, but I remember the food.

Frito Pie served at Jazz Fest was a quaint little affair that was both convenient and inconvenient to eat depending on how you looked at it. The vendor opened a bag of Fritos corn chips at one end (I've seen it also laid on a paper plate and slit down the middle, revealing a nest of golden chips in a silver mylar blanket) and a hearty ladleful of chili poured into the opening made for the basis of it. Shredded cheddar cheese, diced raw onions, and jalapenos (on request) top it all off and a plastic spoon is shoved into it - you eat it right out of the bag. Navigating such a thing during a festival in New Orleans is a bit tricky, as there are tons of people milling about who no doubt like yourself are all quite inebriated. It's quick and easy, filling and cheap, fun festival type food.

I make it at home now and then, but I make it more in the style of a casserole. I prefer to make it with home made chili, but canned works in a pinch. I love having diced raw onions on my chili, but there's something about sauteed onions cooked almost to the point of caramelized that really appeal to me in chili as well. Their sweetness cuts down some of the sharpness and rounds the flavor out. I prefer for this to be a substantial meal that fills you up nicely, so I add in extra cooked and seasoned ground beef or turkey (depending on which chili I am making - I've also used Morningstar Farms Vegetarian Crumbles) and like to dress each serving with freshly shredded lettuce, tomatoes, fresh raw onions, and jalapenos. If you like, sour cream and salsa are also nice. The cheese goes on once the baking time is up and the oven is turned off, the dish goes back into the oven until it melts. I let it rest for about 15-20 minutes before serving. My version is just a set of guidelines, measurements are approximate and ingredients are interchangeable if you would prefer to try something else. Make it your own, the only real standards are the chips, chili, cheese, and onions.

  • 2 large onions, sliced into half moons and then into half inch slices
  • 1 TBSP. vegetable oil
  • 1 quart of home made chili, or 2 cans of your favorite brand (I use Hormel's Chili with beans in lieu of home made)
  • 1 lb. ground beef or turkey, cooked and drained
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning mix, chili spice mix, or your own preferred combination of spices for such things
  • 2 cans chopped green chilis, undrained
  • 1 10.5 oz. bag of Fritos (or similar brand) corn chips, carefully crushed in the partially opened bag (use the heel of your palm or a heavy pan to do the trick)
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, or use your favorite (Pepper Jack is also great here)

  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat and add the onions with a bit of salt and pepper. Stir them well every few minutes until they're as cooked as you like them. (Pic)
  3. Heat the chili in a large saucepan or boiler until hot and bubbly, add the cooked ground meat and spices and stir well to combine evenly. (Pic)
  4. Add the cooked onions, green chilis, and 2/3 of the crushed chips to the pot, remove from heat and stir well to combine evenly.
  5. Scatter the remaining chips over the bottom of a rectangular baking dish and pour the chili mixture over the top, use a spoon or spatula to spread it evenly.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes, remove from the oven and evenly distribute the cheese over the top. Turn the oven off, and allow the dish to sit in the oven until the cheese is just melted. Lastly, remove and allow to rest on the counter for at least 10 minutes. (Pic)
  7. Serve each portion as is, or with the taco-style toppings of your choice.
2nd-Sep-2008 10:44 pm (UTC)
This looks like it's horribly unhealthy, and now I'm craving it. Definitely going on next week's meal plan. MMMMM. :)
2nd-Sep-2008 10:57 pm (UTC)
Not if you make the chili yourself with veggie crumbles or ground turkey, use baked corn chips, and reduced fat cheese. Also, smaller portions and lots of fresh veggies really work here.

I've even made a salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, shredded cabbage and carrots) tossed with a creamy chili-lime dressing and served it on top of this version of Frito Pie described above.
2nd-Sep-2008 11:06 pm (UTC)
You know...if you need some guest for frito-pie, I can throw about 5-6 guys in the car and be there by midnight?
I can pick up sour cream for a dab on top.
2nd-Sep-2008 11:55 pm (UTC)
Awww, I wished I'd made enough now - it's mostly gone at this point.
2nd-Sep-2008 11:55 pm (UTC)
Rain check?
2nd-Sep-2008 11:57 pm (UTC)
Absolutely, babe!!
3rd-Sep-2008 12:16 am (UTC)
oh hell yeah
3rd-Sep-2008 12:32 am (UTC) - mmmmmmmmmmm
Courtesy of mike ator... He's a great musician www.mikeator.com and my ex. He happens to also make the best frito pie in the world. He was a purist...and it rubbed off. So:

Wolf Brand Chili
Frito's (the small kind)
Cheddar Cheese (grated large)
Chopped Onion (preferably 1015's...bonus points if you're familiar)

Warm Chili
Place frito's in bowl
Pour heated Chili over Frito's
Sprinkle LIBERALLY with cheese and onions.

Not fancy. Not baked. Just good.

FYI: My mom would argue that it's not really frito pie if its not served in the little individual sized frito bag...at the ball park...in the summer...and slathered with that icky nacho cheese sauce. Just sayin.

thanks for the recipe though...ima still try it!
3rd-Sep-2008 02:30 am (UTC) - Re: mmmmmmmmmmm
I love Texas 1015's!! Sadly they are hard to come by in Georgia, but then again we have Vidalia onions here and they're my personal favorite.

This version I have come up with works best if you're having it for dinner and inviting friends over, it makes a lot at once and everyone gets to top it as they see fit. This one ends up tasting a bit like tamales or a tamale pie, kinda sorta.
3rd-Sep-2008 02:19 am (UTC)

Just... damn...

My blood pressure is already sky high. I think that'd actually kill me.

But it sounds so good...

3rd-Sep-2008 02:32 am (UTC)
HA! It can be dangerous, but you can actually lighten this up quite a bit if you're innovative enough. See my reply to princessenoire above for ideas - here's the link.
3rd-Sep-2008 02:33 am (UTC)
Grazie. :) I might just try the full throttle recipe if I'm ever feeling despondent.

"Sorry ticker, I just don't give a crap anymore! Bury me at Denny's!"

Edited at 2008-09-03 02:35 am (UTC)
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3rd-Sep-2008 02:26 am (UTC)
Amazing how little it is known outside of the south! The way you describe it is the same way I had it my first time, at Jazz Fest.
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3rd-Sep-2008 02:40 am (UTC)
In a way though it's great. I love introducing people to boudin, maque choux, pickled okra, grillades, REAL barbecue, greens, fresh peas, I could go on and on and on. And YES, you need to cook something special from home this weekend.

I'm making cornmeal/okra/bacon fritters tomorrow, baked chicken, and smothered cabbage.
(Deleted comment)
3rd-Sep-2008 02:51 am (UTC)
Okra Cornmeal Fritters

  • 4 bacon slices
  • 1/2 large Vidalia or other sweet onion, finely chopped (2/3 cup)
  • 1/2 lb fresh okra, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 cup white cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • About 1 cup vegetable oil for frying

  1. Preheat oven to 200°F with rack in middle.
  2. Cook bacon in a heavy medium skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp. Drain on paper towels, reserving fat in skillet, then finely chop. Add onion and okra to fat in skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chopped bacon.
  3. Whisk egg in a medium bowl, then whisk in buttermilk, cornmeal, sugar, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt until smooth. Stir in okra mixture.
  4. Wipe skillet clean. Add enough oil to skillet to measure 1/4 inch and heat over medium heat until it shimmers. Cook rounded tablespoons of batter (6 to 7 fritters per batch), turning once, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per batch, transferring to paper towels to drain. Keep warm in oven while making remaining batches. Serve immediately.

Edited at 2008-09-03 02:51 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
3rd-Sep-2008 03:27 am (UTC)
HA!! *cracks up* I swear, you are just the cutest goddamned thing ever.
(Deleted comment)
3rd-Sep-2008 03:38 am (UTC)
Well then I'm not even going to tell you about all of my DK fantasies, 'cause that would be just wrong... especially since we're discussing all manner of things good to eat...

Edited at 2008-09-03 03:39 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
3rd-Sep-2008 03:45 am (UTC)
You don't fool me one bit, Mr. You look all sweet and innocent, but I know better than that!
(Deleted comment)
3rd-Sep-2008 03:55 am (UTC)
Only in appearance, and only on the outside... I learned early on that getting what I wanted was largely a matter of negotiating how to to fly under the radar of those who might prevent me from getting away with certain... things...

3rd-Sep-2008 09:57 pm (UTC) - smoked boudin
mmmmmmmm...the best ever...from, I think, The Best Stop west of Opelousas...mmmmmmm...I just used to go in and buy a suitcase full of it.

OMG! they have a website! Holy cow!

3rd-Sep-2008 09:39 am (UTC)
I started to make Frito Pie this weekend and discovered we had not chili! So, bear with me, we took a big can of baked beans, added BBQ sauce and onions, mixed it with 2 lbs of ground beef, then put it all together as the Frito Pie casserole. It was very good and was an interesting change from chili-based Frito Pie.

5th-Sep-2008 03:51 pm (UTC)
i just got this awesome mental image of you trying to crush the fritos in an UNopened bag with a cast iron skillet. i know how you southerners are. ;)
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