Chili Frito Pie
Chili is one of those tricky things, in my opinion, to make. Does good, tasty, chili come about because you’ve slow cooked it for hours on end? Can you make chili quick and fast and still have it be tasty? Sometimes, you just can’t plan 8 hours in advance for chili. What do you do then?
Months ago, I had seen a recipe online for chili frito pie. Why it’s called chili frito pie is beyond me, but I’m not going to be the one to change it. I had mentioned it in passing to my husband, and he immediately was interested. He likes fritos and the mixture of chili and fritos can’t be too bad, right? This is basically a quick and dirty chili recipe that can be made in about an hours time.
Ok, time to take a new recipe for a test drive. The ingredients are many: ground beef, kidney beans, pinto beans, Ro-tel diced tomatoes and green chilies, tomato sauce, chili powder, ground cumin, corn meal, garlic cloves, dried oregano, salt, shredded cheddar cheese and, of course, fritos!
Start with a nice sized cast iron dutch oven that can hold the chili you’ll be making. You need to start by browning your ground beef. Once cooked through, drain all of the excess fat out of the dutch oven. To the ground beef, add a couple of cloves of finely minced garlic. Next up is a can of tomato sauce. The tomato sauce is the base of the chili you’re creating.
Continue to build the base of the chili by adding in one can of Ro-tel diced tomatoes and green chilies. This is the first time that I had ever used Ro-tel. The combination of the diced tomatoes and green chilies is terrific. It gives the chili a little bit of a mild hint of heat, but the green chilies really are very mild. You want to add the whole can, juices and all. Now it’s time for the flavoring. Add a touch of salt, some ground oregano, ground cumin, and enough chili powder. The chili powder is what gives your chili the heat behind the chili, so be careful as to how much you add. My husband thinks that I may have added a bit too much chili powder for his liking. He said it ended up being a bit hotter than he would have wanted. Be generous with the cumin as well. Cumin gives the dish a nice spice and it really creates that chili flavor. Last step before we let these flavors marry is to add about a half cup of water to help create a sauce. This will help to thin out the tomato sauce as well.
Reduce the heat on the stove to low, put the lid on your dutch oven, and allow the chili to simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir it a couple of times in order to combine all the flavors together.
While the chili is simmering on the stove, it’s time to get the beans ready. This recipe calls for a combination of one can of dark red kidney beans and one can of pinto beans. The chili I had made from scratch on my Chili, Anyone? blog post had called for starting with dried pinto beans and rehydrating them by soaking them in water and then boiling the soaked beans. This recipe calls for beans that have already been hydrated and cooked and come in cans you can find in the grocery store. This method of preparing beans is much simpler than my previous method. What you’ll need to do is open up the can of kidney beans and pinto beans and drain them into a colander over the sink. We need the beans, but not the juices they are soaking in. When the beans have been drained into a colander, you’ll notice that they are still a bit slimy and sticky from the juices in the can. Run some cold water from your sink over the beans and wash them completely. Finally, add the beans together into your cooking pot of chili. Mix everything together. Cover the pot again and simmer for another 20 minutes on the stove.
In order to thicken the chili, we’re going to add a corn meal and water mixture. Add a quarter cup of corn meal to a small bowl and enough water to dissolve the corn meal into. The recipe I was using actually said it preferred masa, a corn flour, at this stage, but that corn meal could be substituted for masa. Masa is traditionally what tamales are made up of, and while using masa would have been nice, since I don’t make tamales, or anything for that matter that requires masa, I didn’t have any on hand.
Add the corn meal/water mixture right into the pot of chili and stir it around. This mixture should help to thicken the chili sauce, as well as give your chili a subtle hint of corn flavor. The corn flavoring will work well with the fritos you’ll be eating with your chili as fritos are essentially corn chips. Stir everything together and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.
At this point, the chili is done. Before you serve it, you’ll want to give it a quick taste test to make sure that your seasoning is just right.
Now here comes the fun fritos part. When we served this at home, we ripped open a bag of fritos, and piled them high in the bottom of a bowl. We ladled the chili right over the fritos. The heat of the chili will soften the fritos a bit, but when you bite into it, you’ll still get a nice crunch from the fritos and the mild corn flavor will blend well with the spicy, and hot chili.
Top the bowl with freshly grated cheddar cheese and you’ve got yourself chili frito pie!
What makes this dish so versatile is that this dish is also perfect for an on-the-go occasion. It’s so easy to heat up the chili and transport it with you in a container or a crock pot. Individual bags of fritos are easy to come by. At a kids sporting event or a picnic, you can easily cut open a bag of fritos lengthwise, ladle a spoonful or two of chili right into the bag of fritos and top with cheese and a fork to serve! The bag itself becomes your serving vessel. Once the chili has been eaten, just toss the bag in the trash. No clean up necessary! A quick and dirty chili that’s full of flavor and easy to make, combined with fritos which everyone loves, and topped with cheddar cheese, what could be better?