The makings of 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)
- Preheat oven to 350º.
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- Serve each portion as is, or with the taco-style toppings of your choice.