Scissor open a snack-size bag of corn chips, spoon in chili, cheese and sour cream and you have a walking taco, a.k.a. Frito Pie. The birthplace of this personal meal in a bag is unclear — possibly Mexico, Texas or even a Santa Fe five-and-dime lunch counter. Regardless, Frito Pie has become part of America’s culinary vernacular. Quite simply, this is a joyous food delivery system.
I’ve eaten my share of Frito Pies, and while I struggle to achieve the right ratio of chips to chili, I’ll never turn one down. Still, nothing else had satisfied like that delightful combination of crunch, spicy heat and sweet corn — until I began to dream of a baking sheet filled with those tastes.
My Tex Mex Frito Slab Pie starts with a delicate crust of corn bread and layers on chipotle-laced chili, plenty of sharp cheese and crushed Fritos Corn Chips. This is a family-friendly meal fit for a potluck, a neighborhood gathering or an after-soccer get-together. It’s economical and easy to serve as well. It takes less than an hour to gather the ingredients (many of which may be on your pantry shelves already), preheat the oven, make the chili topping, stir together the corn bread, assemble and bake.
While it’s not a complex recipe, it does involve some keys to success. Use a sturdy baking sheet, the type with sides. I tried making this pie in a disposable aluminum foil pan. Disaster; this is a heavy pie. On another occasion, I doubled up on the foil pans, but then the corn bread didn’t crisp up.
Chili is the most flavor-packed component in this mix, so it needs to be well seasoned — to the very edge of over-seasoned, in fact. The corn bread crust mellows the pie’s overall taste, as does the cheesy layer, so that’s why you need an assertive chili here. So go spicier and just slightly more salty, remembering that this pie is topped with a carpet of crushed chips.
Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix substitutes for homemade corn bread without a bit of shame. It takes two 8.5-ounce boxes’ worth to cover the baking sheet, but when pouring the batter into the pan, leave a little back in the mixing bowl or risk an overflowing and abundant corn-bread crust.
Set out this pie with suitable toppings such as salsa, pickled jalapeño, cubes of avocado, diced red onion, lime wedges, sour cream and a favorite hot sauce. Serve a crisp, crunchy salad on the side.
This is also an easygoing recipe, substitution-wise. I regularly use ground turkey instead of the beef-pork combo, and turn to pinto beans for a vegetarian option. Toss a handful of pickled jalapeños in with the grated cheese. Try nacho-flavored chips instead of plain corn chips. Add frozen corn kernels to the crust batter. A layer of roasted poblanos can be snuggled between the chili and the cheese.
Have fun with my take on Frito Pie, whether you’re walking or sitting down.
Barrow is a Washington cookbook author. She’ll join Wednesday’s Free Range chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.
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You’ll need a rimmed baking sheet or jellyroll pan that measures 13 by 18 inches. The recipe can be halved; in that case, you’ll need a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet.
While this is a very kid-friendly pie, the adobo can carry serious heat, so be confident but judicious about how much you use, depending on the crowd. If it’s a group that likes spicy, include not just the tangy sauce, but a canned chipotle, minced.
Serve with a crunchy lettuce and sliced radishes.
MAKE AHEAD: This recipe may be baked earlier in the day, refrigerated and then reheated to serve. Starting with a room-temperature pie, cover with aluminum foil and warm in a 350-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. The chili can be refrigerated for up to 3 days in advance, or frozen for up to a month. Defrost before using.
From Bring It! columnist and cookbook author Cathy Barrow.
For the chili
1/2 cup chopped smoky bacon or pancetta
2 medium onions, diced
1 pound lean ground pork
1 pound lean ground beef, preferably ground chuck
1 cup water
4 tablespoons tomato paste
11/2 tablespoons sauce from canned chiles in adobo (see headnote)
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
11/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped scallions (white and light-green parts)
1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves, chopped
For the crust
Softened unsalted butter, for the pan
Two 8.5-ounce boxes Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
2 large eggs
2/3 cup regular or low-fat milk
2 cups (8 ounces) Monterey Jack or sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
One 9.5-ounce bag regular Fritos, crushed
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Sour cream or Mexican crema
Jalapeño slices, fresh or pickled
For the filling: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
For the chili: Cook the chopped bacon in a large, straight-sided skillet over medium heat until it is just crisp. Add the onions and cook until translucent, then add the ground pork and beef, breaking it up with two forks. Cook until no pink remains in the meat, about 6 minutes, then pour off and discard most of the accumulated fat.
Add the water, tomato paste, adobo sauce, ancho chili powder, salt, paprika, cumin and cinnamon. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir in the scallions and cilantro; remove the pan from the heat. Let the mixture cool while making the corn bread batter.
For the crust: Brush the rimmed baking sheet with butter, especially in the corners and up the sides.
Prepare the corn muffin mixes with the eggs and milk according to the package directions, stirring with a fork until just combined in a mixing bowl. Lumps are okay.
Pour the batter into the baking sheet or jellyroll pan, using an offset spatula to spread it evenly into the corners. Scatter the chili filling evenly across the cornmeal batter, cover with the grated cheese and then top with the crushed Fritos. Don’t worry too much; it’s all going to come together.
Bake (middle rack) for 22 to 24 minutes, until the corn bread is pulling away from the corners and the Fritos are golden brown. If it looks like the crust will bubble over the edges, place a large sheet of aluminum foil or another baking sheet on the rack underneath.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Set out the chopped cilantro, sour cream or Mexican crema, jalapeños and hot sauce for serving.
Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.
Recipe tested by Cathy Barrow; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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