Walking Frito Pie

I love October. Here in the Lowcountry, the weather is just about as perfect as you can get (provided we don’t get a hurricane . . . again). Not too hot, not too cold, not too buggy (if you don’t know this “weather” term, you haven’t spent much time down here battling noseeums). Since The Boy has been in marching band this year, I’ve spent many a Friday evening cheering on the local high school and watching our awesome (not that I’m biased or anything) band rock the half time show. Here in the south, Friday night football is almost a religious experience for many. We are lucky that our concessions are pretty good here. In addition to your standard hot dogs, chips and sodas at the concession stand, lots of local restaurants set up booths selling a bit more high-brow fare so it’s always a good time. My husband grew up in Texas where they have a sort of cult following around one particular high school football concession standard: Frito Pie.

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I gathered all my pantry ingredients and chopped all my vegetables the night before so my morning assembly would go really fast.

Frito Pie is basically a walking bowl of chili but instead of being garnished with Frito corn chips, the chips are an integral part of the dish and, instead of a bowl, you eat it all right out of the bag because we’re classy like that. Most purists use only two or three toppings: cheese, diced onions and diced jalapeno (pickled or fresh). And you can find it at pretty much every football game and county fair in Texas in the fall.

After your brown  your meat (and yes, this is more than I’ve mentioned below – I scaled way up), add the aromatics and the spice mixture. Transfer all of it to the slow cooker.

Another reason I love October is my crazy neighborhood’s penchant for an over the top Halloween. I live in a very kid oriented neighborhood and people go all out at Halloween with decorating and stupid copious amounts of candy. Last year, some brilliant soul came up with the idea of having adult Halloween stops as well. If you had something to offer the grown ups, you hung a special sign by the door. It was pretty funny to see the littles walking around and holding out their big orange pumpkin buckets for goodies and then to see the parents hold out a big red plastic cup for a glug of some sort of adult beverage or reach for a snack. Chef J and I made a spiked bread pudding with rum sauce last year and it was a hit.

Dump in your wet ingredients, stirring after each addition. You want it pretty soupy before you get it started.

Chili has always been our go to meal at Halloween because I can do it in the slow cooker in the morning and then we can just scarf it down before heading out the door. This year, because I’ve had fall football on the brain and in keeping with our family’s Halloween supper tradition, I served Frito Pie to the grown ups. I set up a crock pot of chili by the front door with individual bags of Fritos popped open and ready to be topped with spicy, savory goodness and a few toppings to choose from. The adults were sent on their way with a self-contained hot snack and a plastic spoon. Gotta have some sort of sustenance to trail witches, pirates and zombie through the hundreds of houses in our subdivision, right? Plus, something to soak up all those cups of wine and jello shots (and someone said “pudding shots” this year!). This would also make a great tailgate treat!

When it’s done, it will be very dark in color and slightly thickened. Add in your beans and a slurry of masa flour and water (I used beef stock instead). It will continue to thicken as it sits.

Now, this particular recipe is a little spicy so feel free to use fewer chiles and less cayenne if you aren’t a huge fan of heat. The Boy found this a little spicy for his tastes so added more sour cream. Chef J added extra hot sauce. I thought it was just right but definitely had a zing to it.

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Set up your serving station and load it up! Did I mention how much I love my neighborhood? We gave candy to the kiddos and dinner to the parents. Another mom brought these Jello shooters door to door as she couldn’t be home to hand them out to our adult trick or treaters.

Frito Pie (serves 10-12  with some leftover chili – easily scaled back or multiplied for as many as you like)

  • 2 lbs ground beef 
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and diced
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 or 2 chipotles in adobo, chopped, (be careful, these are pretty spicy!)
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • 3 T chili powder (I used 1 ancho and 2 regular)
  • 2 T ground cumin
  • 1/2 t cayenne pepper
  • 2 T dark cocoa powder (optional but adds a huge depth of flavor)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t pepper
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 3 14 oz cans fire roasted diced tomatoes (if you want it a little spicier, substitute one can of diced tomatoes and chiles – like Rotel)
  • 1 can Mexican beer (we had Modelo on hand) or beef stock
  • 1/4 C masa or fine ground corn flour (plus 1/2 C water, beer or stock)
  • 2 cans kidney beans, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Individual 1 or 2 oz bags of Frito corn chips (I bought a huge box on Amazon!)
  • diced red onion, diced jalapeno (pickled or fresh, whatever you prefer), shredded cheddar (although some people prefer a nacho or Velveeta sauce) and sour cream for toppings
  • Plastic forks or spoons

In a large skillet, brown ground beef, draining off excess fat. Add in diced onion, jalapeno, garlic and chipotle in adobo, if using. Saute until onions are translucent, about five minutes. Add oregano, chili powder, cumin, cayenne and cocoa (if using) and continue to saute until very fragrant (in a pinch you can use a packet of chili seasoning in lieu of all these spices). Transfer meat mixture to slow cooker and stir in tomato sauce, tomatoes and the beer, stirring after each addition. You want it pretty soupy and may find you need more liquid. I had a little extra beef stock in the fridge but water is totally fine.

Set slow cooker on low and cook for at least four hours (my slow cooker has a setting that allows me to tell it when I want to eat and it adjusts heat accordingly). About 30 minutes before serving, mix together corn flour and water and stir into your chili. Gently fold in drained beans to heat through. It will thicken as it heats up. Taste and season with salt as necessary.

To assemble your “pies,” open top of bag and fold down a bit. Make a little nest in the chips and ladle in a scoop of chili. Top with cheese, then onions and peppers and glop a little sour cream on top if you like. Stick a plastic spoon in the lot and unfold the bag a little. Then hunker down and walk away eating your delicious (and EVER so classy) meal in a bag.


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