When I was planning the menu for Clara’s first birthday party, I had my heart set on serving mini chicken pot pies as the main course. They were the main dish at my baby shower, and I thought it would be fun to incorporate a savory pie into the menu. However, once I really started thinking about it, I realized I would have to buy over 50 of the ramekins to bake the pies in and then I’d have no use for them after the party. When my friend Annie suggested Frito Pie, I knew she was onto something. It would be much easier to make and serve, something that is definitely a plus when it comes to party food.
When I mentioned making Frito Pie for the party, I got a glazed over look from so many people. I thought it was a common food all over the country, but apparently I was wrong. For those of you not in the know, it’s basically chili served over Fritos. I thought it was a fun play on the pie theme, and it was a big hit with everyone that tried it. I kept it simple with toppings, serving it with cheese, sour cream and green onions. If you want to go all out, add sliced (fresh or pickled) jalapeños, red onions and cilantro. We scaled back the heat some since we wanted the kiddos to enjoy this too, but I’ve included the original amount below. Like all of the party food, this dish was well received (especially with the cornbread whoopie pies) and will definitely be making an appearance on our menu again soon.
This recipe is easily doubled to serve a crowd. It can also be made ahead of time and reheated when needed, which makes it perfect for a party. Feel free to adjust the amounts of cayenne and chili powder to increase or decrease the level of spiciness.
Add the beef to a large pot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat, working in batches if needed. Cook, stirring until browned, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and return the pot to the stove.
Heat the oil, then add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is browned and starting to caramelize, 12-15 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant and slightly softened. Add salt, cumin, chili powder, oregano, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, and bay leaves. Stir until the mixture is fragrant and smooth, about 1 minute.
Add reserved beef, water or beef broth and tomatoes and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili has thickened to your liking. Add additional water or beef broth as needed to thin the chili to your desired consistency.
To serve, place chips in serving bowls and ladle chili over the top. Sprinkle on the cheese and top with other garnishes, if desired.
Saveur, December 2011