Frito Pie

Cheap, hearty, and eternally beloved.
Photograph by Jody Horton

Walking taco. Texas straw hat. Stomach grenade. It goes by many names but only one that matters: Frito pie. Cheap, hearty, and pretty darn bad for you, this humble fare, with its bold chili, crunchy corn chips, silken cheese, and bracing onion, is typically found at high school football games and state fairs. But as soon as the recipe started to appear in grocery store promotional campaigns in the fifties—to be prepared with Fritos-brand chili—it didn’t take long for home cooks like Peggy Hill to figure out that this was the stuff of which easy dinners were made.

The origins of the dish are unknown. C. E. Doolin may have invented the Frito (in 1932), but not the pie. He in fact eschewed meat and salt and probably would not have touched this concoction with a ten-foot spork. Some give the nod to his mother, Daisy Dean Doolin, a name clearly destined for greatness. A five-and-dime in Santa Fe lays claim to it. And countless sincere souls insist it was dreamed up by their “pawpaw.”

 Most likely the idea for this happy union of chuck-wagon grub and Mexican street food occurred independently to a number of folks. Since then it’s been fancified (duck chili and goat cheese), bastardized (witness the “apple hash and pumpkin gravy Fritos pie” at fritospieremix.com), and improvised (let us hail the 7-Eleven Frito pie, in which an expeditious meal is made with a pocketknife and a furtive run on the hot dog condiments). But like the Frito itself, there’s no better version than the classic.

Serves 1

1 two-ounce bag of original Fritos
Pot of chili, homemade or canned
(I am loath to endorse any sort of canned meat product, but Texans swear by Wolf Brand.)
Grated cheddar cheese
Diced white onion

Take a knife or some scissors and split the bag down the front.
Ladle in a scoop of chili.
Top with a mound of cheese and a heap of onion. Festoon your creation to your heart’s content (sour cream, jalapeños, avocado,
and so on), though
expect to be chastised 
by purists.

Eat it straight out of the bag, preferably atop a thick pile of  paper napkins.

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