Frito pie with one hour Texas chili DSC1022
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Frito pie with one-hour Texas chili

When my grandparents were in graduate school at the University of Kentucky, they were—of course—homesick Texans. But they soon figured out that they could feel a lot closer to home if they indulged in that Texan classic, Frito pie.

Frito pie—if you are a deprived soul that has never eaten one—is simply a pile of Fritos topped with chili, cheese, diced onions and sometimes, if you’re feeling flush, pickled jalapenos and sour cream. In Texas, it’s a mainstay at Friday-night football games, county fairs, school-cafeteria lunches, church youth-group suppers and yes, even at home.

Typically, it’s served in the bag—you just open up an individual-sized Frito package, ladle on the chili and dip in with your spoon. Though I find when you’re eating it at home, a bowl is an acceptable vessel for serving it as well, though some people may argue that is just a bit too fancy for this humble dish.

Frito pie with one-hour Texas chili  | Homesick Texan

Now, as my grandma recalls, Fritos weren’t widely available in Kentucky in the late 1940’s—it was still mostly a Texan brand. And forget about even finding that other common ingredient for Frito pie—canned Wolf Brand chili. But they had a Texan friend at school that on trips back home to Corsicana would load up his car with bags of Fritos and cases of chili and bring these treasures back to Lexington. A Frito pie feast would then ensue.

I think those of us who are no longer in Texas can relate to filling our suitcases with beloved foods unavailable in our new home. Fortunately, however, Fritos are now found everywhere so if I get a craving I don’t have to go far. But canned chili? I don’t even bother with the stuff they sell in New York City as it’s always made with beans and without heat or flavor. Nope, when I make my Frito pies, I instead top it with a chili made from scratch.

Frito pie is a simple dish, which means I don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen putting it together. And sure, my usual Texas chili is an all-day affair, slow-simmered cubes of beef richly flavored with a variety of chilis and spices. But for Frito pie, I instead make a one-hour chili from coarsely ground beef. And while it might not be as complex as my other chili, I find that it’s still spicy enough to be a fine complement to a pile of corn chips.

Frito pie with one-hour Texas chili  | Homesick Texan

When was the last time you had Frito pie? I have to admit that I don’t eat Frito pie nearly as often as I should. But I think my grandparents definitely had the right idea, as tucking into a bowl with friends is a superb way to celebrate home.
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5 from 2 votes

Frito pie with one-hour Texas chili

Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 8
Author Lisa Fain

Ingredients

Ingredients for the one-hour Texas chili:

  • 6 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 2 dried morita chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium-yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced minced
  • 4 pequin chiles
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • Pinch ground clove
  • Pinch ground allspice
  • 5 cups water
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons corn meal or masa harina (optional, but will thicken chili if needed)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Ingredients for the Frito pies:

  • 4 cups of Fritos
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, for serving
  • 1/4 cup of diced onions, for serving
  • Sliced jalapeños, for serving

Instructions

  • In a large skillet, heat the ancho and morita dried chiles on medium-high heat for a minute, turning once. Fill the skillet with water, and just as it begins to steam, turn off the heat and let the chiles soak until rehydrated, about 30 minutes.
  • In a Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil on medium low and while stirring occasionally cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Throw in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Place the cooked onion and garlic into a blender. Turn off the heat.
  • Drain the chiles from the soaking water and add them to the blender along with the chile pequin (you don’t need to pre-soak these little chilis). Add the cumin, oregano, clove, allspice, and 1 cup of water. Blend until smooth.
  • Blend the ground beef with the salt and pepper, then form the meat into little balls, about the size of a 1/2-inch marble. (This does not need to be perfect, so don’t spend too much time doing this. The purpose is to emulate chili chuck, a very coarse grind of beef sold in Texas)
  • On medium heat, cook the beef while stirring occasionally, until lightly browned all over, about 10 minutes. Add the chile puree and the remaining 4 cups of water, heat on high until boiling and then simmer uncovered on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • After 45 minutes, taste and adjust the seasonings adding more salt as desired. Also, if the chili isn’t thick enough for you, slowly stir in the masa harina. Add the lime juice and then cook for 10 more minutes.
  • To make the Frito pies, divide the Fritos between 4 to 8 bowls and ladle over them the chili. Top with the cheddar, diced onions, and jalapeños.

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113 Comments

  1. I think if I ever findmyself in a situation where I have to pick my last meal it will be a huge helping of frito pie with wolf brand chili without beans huge glass of dr pepper or big red and I'm set..lucky enough for. Me they sell wolf brand chili in alabama

  2. Lisa, please help, I've done it wrong. After spending forever making meat-marbles, the end product feels like a batch of the world's blandest meatballs in a tasty spicy sauce. I get the feeling I wasn't supposed to end up with a meatball stew? Where did I go wrong?

  3. Lisa Fain says:

    Mijke–Maybe adjust the spices. Did you add some masa harina to make the gravy thick?

  4. I added cornmeal but it seemed like the meatballs were the problem. Maybe I made them too big. (I also neglected to buy Fritos and lime, so there were several things missing…) Have you got a photo of this chili without the toppings?

  5. Lisa Fain says:

    Mijke–I don't have a photo. The meat should be about 1/2 inch wide. And chili is definitely improvisational, so season to taste. If you made the balls too large, perhaps breaking them with a spoon so they're better integrated with the meat will improve the taste.