New little fried thing on the menu – Frito Pie

The first time I went to Chicago I met a guy in a local tap room who told me about walking tacos. This bag of frito brand corn chips that was slashed open and the chips laden with chili, sour cream, jalapenos, onions and cheese.

Chili cheese crisps?

I mean from the description alone I knew this would taste great. We’ve been playing with some version of chili cheese fries since 2005. What I wasn’t expecting to find when I looked into the dish was that it’s an American classic.

It just sounds like some street food / semi ironic kind of thing that would pop up in LA or Miami. It didn’t scream USA classic to me.

It is.

It’s one of those heroic American dishes that just maybe doesn’t translate that well back across to Europe. So of course we’re putting it on the menu.

One of those things that takes us a while to discover.

It’s kind of in the realm of s’mores, frozen bananas, tamales, devilled eggs, grits. Many in the USA love these dishes. Your man on Kingsland Road might well not have heard of them.

I’m secretly hoping that the corn dog, which you couldn’t find with much ease until recently, will serve as a gateway food for these dishes in London.

Crisps served in a crisp bag with meat sauce and cheese on top? That’s supposed to be like their Fish and Chips is it? Like a national dish?

Well sort of….

It’s from Texas where the state dish is chili and where all this Frito business started.

Enter Charles Elmer Doolin; in 1932 it seems he wanted to have some chips on the counter in his bakery so he decided to invent/license this clever “fried thing”.

Charles intended these as a side with a soup. You wouldn’t eat a whole bag in one sitting! Who would dream of such vulgarity right?

Mr Doolin seems to have been particularly driven and smart because the chip he ended up with required a lot of forward thinking such as conveyer belt manufacturing processes and hybridized corn varieties.

As I often find; when looking into the origins of the modern classics it’s nearly always impossibly to get to the absolute truth.

Coney Island dog? Eggs benedict? The hamburger? Does anyone really know?

I can’t imagine how the invention stories of houmous or steak tartare could ever be satisfactorily resolved.

In this case we can get pretty close to what actually happened.

Even great products need marketing right? So in the fifties cooking with Fritos campaigns kicked off in various incarnations. The company’s own recipes began to pop up with increasing frequency, first at trade conventions and then, inevitably on the packaging of the chips themselves.

People working for the company were coming up with recipes for Fritos.

Somewhere along the way you get your frito pie. We can date it to at least 1949. And it was printed on a million Fritos bag headers in 1962.

It can be done in the bag or it can be done as a casserole.

We do it in the bag like the walking tacos that bearded, plaid shirt wearing, IPA glugging gentleman told me about in Chicago 2013.

Here’s the recipe for the vintage classic from Kaleta Doolin’s book:


2 cups lightly crushed Fritos corn chips

1 can chili (without beans)

1 large onion chopped

1 cup grated American cheese

Reserve some of the corn chips for a topping; place half of the rest in the bottom of a casserole. Pour half the chili over the corn chips. Top with half of the chopped onion and cheese. Repeat, and then top with the corn chips you reserved. Bake at 350 degrees (180ºC) for 20 minutes or until well heated and the onion is thoroughly cooked. Serves 4-6.


Get the book

Listen to the birth of the frito on NPR




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