America has been responsible for the development of some of the most iconic foods in the world. The modern interpretation of the pizza, the corndog, fried green tomatoes, the Philly Cheesesteak, Gumbo – the list goes on and on, but there is one food that so neatly encapsulates the American approach to lowbrow comfort food that it stands head and shoulders above even the pizza – and that is the Frito Pie.
It is simplicity in itself. The Frito Pie is not a pie as the rest of the world knows it, it is a stack of Frito chips (or crisps as they are called in some countries) smothered in chili. For the true aficionado, the chips must be those produced by American company Frito-Lay – any substitution will not be tolerated by purists. For true authenticity, the chili should be heaped (or poured – there are many, many chili options) over the chips while they are still in the bag. There are some regional touches that differentiate the Frito Pie offerings from different States. In Texas grated cheddar cheese and chopped onion make up a garnish, in other versions, one might find Jalapeno Peppers crowing the Pie, in still others, sour cream makes an appearance – but the heart of the dish remains the same.
There are many regions and cultures that lay claim to being the inventors of the Frito Pie. New Mexico residents claim that it was invented in 1960 in Santa Fe at the local Woolworths, Texans will loudly proclaim that it has its origins in the 1930’s when Daisy Doolen (who was the mother of the inventor of Fritos) invented the dish with its signature cheese and chopped onion topping.
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As with most iconic dishes of this type, there is a multitude of recipes. However, it is the chili that makes all the difference. At its heart are ground beef, cayenne pepper, pinto beans, crushed tomatoes, green chili and chili powder. Cumin and Oregano get a look in as well, adding tomato paste is also popular. However, it should be emphasized that individual taste is the guiding principle to enjoying a Frito Pie – the variations are almost endless – there are vegetarian options that are growing in popularity. Lovers of the Pie are also not afraid to go downmarket and cut corners by using canned Chili – it definitely stays true to the ethos of the dish. And don’t be afraid to up the heat by adding different types of Chilis to the equation.
The question of what to serve to accompany a Frito Pie is as complex as the main dish is simple. It’s up to individual taste. However, paying homage to the Tex-Mex flavor of the Pie is always a good idea. Spanish Rice, Guacamole, Salsa or Corn Black Bean Salad pair nicely with the dish.
Frito Pie FAQs:
1. Do I have to use real Fritos?
If you want authenticity then the answer is a resounding yes.
2. What sort of chili should I use?
It all depends on your personal taste – you don’t have to stick with the classics.
3. Should it be served in the packet?
It looks great and adds that bit of fun to proceedings – but again, suit yourself.
4. When should I serve Frito Pie?
This is an anytime, relaxed dish, but it makes a great addition to barbecues and while enjoying the Big Game.
If you want to enjoy a piece of Americana that remains a firm favorite due to its simplicity and great taste then reach for the chili and Fritos – it’ll bring a smile to your face and a tingle to your taste buds.
- Fritos chips
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup diced white onion
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- Sour cream - optional
- Saute garlic, onion over medium heat for 5 minutes
- Add tomato paste
- Add the beef until the beef is no longer pink, drain fat and return to heat.
- Pour in crushed tomatoes, pinto beans, and green chili and bring chili to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
- Season with more salt and pepper, if needed.
- Ladle 1 cup Chili on top of Frito chips
- Sprinkle each with ¼ cup Cheddar cheese and 1 tablespoon diced onion.
- Top with desired toppings.